Wednesday, March 5, 2008

J.C.'s Review: The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering (2007)
by Anne Enright
Fiction, 261 pages
Man Booker Prize Award Winner
New York Times Most Notable 2007

I’ve just recently finished The Gathering by Anne Enright. From the perspective of some, it is a ‘bleak’ and depressing read. I will admit that initially, I felt the same way. However in letting this book stew on my mind for a few days, and after re-reading several passages, I realize that I had missed something. This book is about life, not death. It is about the journey’s we take and choices we make, and how each affect the other.

The basic premise of The Gathering is just that, a gathering – the coming together of a family after the death of a son and brother. It is even made sadder by the fact that this man committed suicide.

One of the sisters, Veronica, was very close to her brother and struggles to find a reason for not only his suicide, but also her own conflicted emotions regarding her family and her marriage that this action has evoked.

She begins to suffer from insomnia and as a way of dealing with these long, sleepless nights she begins to write. This is the first line of the book:

“I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen.”
It is revealed through the recording of her memories, that there was an incident in their childhood, which may have instigated this path to destruction. But memories are tricky things, especially dark ones. They are like shadows, only perceived as distorted reflections of the truth. Who is to say which is ‘real’ and what is contrived? Veronica asks wonders the same:

“I do not know the truth, or I do not know how to tell the truth. All I have are stories, night thoughts, the sudden convictions that uncertainty spawns”
The author does not hold back anything in this narrative regarding family and loss; not hate, not desire, nor humor. In an interview in the Guardian UK, Enright had an interesting thing to say about hatred and desire:

“One of the things I wanted to do in the book was explore how desire and hatred are closely bound up…”
We see this in the character of Veronica, her brother, and the man who changed both their lives that summer in their grandmother’s house.

Also in this interview, I became aware of another gem that I had missed during my first read through of the book. It had to do with the ending. I admit I completely missed the point. After seeing the comment from the chairman of the Booker Judges, Howard Davies, I went back and re-read the last chapter and finally understood its meaning. Life was a journey, of comings and goings, and in all this time Veronica had felt that none of hers were made willingly. This time though, she allowed herself to leave, and return, on her own terms.

She may not have found exactly what she was looking for, but in the process discovered a way to accept what had happened and move on. When looking at the story in this way, I do not find it so bleak or depressing. She made it. She survived. And now she knows:

“…I do not want a different destiny from the one that has brought me here. I do not want a different life. I just want to be able to live it, that’s all.”
This book's brilliance is its subtlety. It took me several days to realize that it deserves a 5 Star rating.

Usually reserved for books I could not put down, this one deserves the highest mark. For even though I may have put it down physically, it was never far from my thoughts - and still isn't.

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