The Gathering

by Anne Enright

Paperback, 2007




Black Cat (2007), Edition: Later Printing, 260 pages


Veronica--once an attention-deprived middle child among 12 siblings, and now an unfulfilled wife and mother--has come to London to claim the body of her beloved yet estranged brother Liam who drowned himself at sea. As the nine surviving members of the Hegarty clan converge in Dublin for Liam's wake, Veronica wants to protect the past--and the secret of what transpired in her grandmother's house during the winter of 1968.

Media reviews

At its best Enright's prose style is excitingly original, a blend of defensive social satire with extreme precision in evoking sounds, smells, and atmosphere and a great ability to make rapid and telling transitions from past to present, concrete to abstract, narrative to reflection. However, these qualities emerge for the most part in sections peripheral to the main story.... When, on the other hand, she slides into melodrama and literary formula, The Gathering does indeed sound like at least nine other writers and by no means the best.
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Her prose often ravishes and sometimes repels: reading her can be like staring into the lustrous surface of a lake, trying to discern the dangers lurking beneath. . . Bringing together the skills she has honed along the way, Enright carries off her illusions without props or dei ex machina, bravely engaging with the carnival horrors of everyday life.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cabegley
Family history, which is for the most part oral tradition, relies on memory and is therefore changeable. The Gathering by Anne Enright explores the relationship between memory and truth, and the possibility of multiple truths. Not in the way of Peggy Seltzer, stealing others' lives whole cloth and making them your own, but in the way that fragments of memory are stitched together, with outside details sometimes pulled in to make them whole.

As Veronica Hegarty brings her brother's body back to Ireland and her family gathers for the wake, she recounts to us her family's history and the past secrets about her brother Liam that she has kept to herself since childhood, secrets that may have tormented Liam to his eventual suicide. Veronica is an unreliable narrator--she as much as tells us so. Early on, she tells the story of her grandmother Ada's first meeting with Lambert Nugent, a meeting that is to echo throughout the generations of the Hegartys, mesmerizing the reader with the story and its possible outcomes, and then pulling out the rug with her admission that she imagined it all. The reader is left with decisions as to what is real and what is not, and whether, in the end, the reality or unreality of the stories matter.

Veronica and Liam's family is huge (12 children), with the requisite alcoholics and priests, and they tend to blend together. I was particularly intrigued by the mysterious Alice, the only surviving sibling never to arrive onstage. But the story is primarily concerned with the tight duo of Veronica and Liam, with the next stairstep, Kitty, tagging close behind, and what may or may not have happened to Liam, what Veronica may or may not have seen, when the three children stayed with Ada one year while Veronica was eight and Liam was nine.

Veronica is an angry woman, and The Gathering is one long, searing howl of rage and pain. Enright's brilliant, incisive writing for the most part overcomes the familiar territory over which this very Irish novel treads, although some of her creative touches, such as her references to bodies, living and dead, as meat, can wear thin with repetition. The book is well done, but draining. And it leaves the reader with more questions than it answers. This is a book that will stay with readers for a long time, and can lead, as in my case, with examinations of our own personal family histories.
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LibraryThing member JimElkins
People get somewhat distracted by prizes, and authors become even more self-regarding. This book has tremendous ambition: but it is not always the ambition to describe a family's loss. More often, it's the ambition to write a great novel and become famous. There is a lot of scraping of the bottom of the emotional barrel here.

There are abrupt transitions, one-sentence paragraphs, unexpected diversions, invented memories and fragmentary scenes, and they are part of the novel's purpose: Enright wants to demonstrate what happens when memories are defective. The problem is that there is another reason why writers turn to fragments and hypothetical scenes: because they are struggling to fill the page, to build the novel, to write a masterpiece of introspection. As I read, I sometimes felt the sting of real pain, real memories: but more often, I felt the persistent trouble the author had in writing great prose, in putting together a great book. Moments when other authors would drill down into difficult memories are alleviated by the sparkly kaleidoscope of Enright's writing. As proof: we never understand why the mother should be so despised; we never hear the difficult conversations with the family about Liam's past; we never see more than fragments of the narrator's noctournal life. When I read those pages describing how the narrator would stay up all night while her husband slept, I thought: Yes, that's Enright, staying up all night fretting about her Great Novel.

Enright is like Kavanagh in the rawness, the nakedness of her writing. But Kavanagh's ambition was to see himself, to understand things clearly and honestly. Here there is much naked ambition, too little naked analysis.

If the prize hasn't cocooned her in a warm swathe of self-regard, then the might well go on to something genuinely strong. But this is a weak novel, where family feelings are marred by an unpleasant desire for fame.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
"There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all." (p. 27)

The Gathering is an intimate and painful look at grief. Veronica Hegarty's life has been turned upside-down by her brother Liam's suicide. Throughout this novel Veronica operates in a fog, disconnected from her siblings, her husband, and her children. She is barely able to function. As she reflects on her brother's life, she tries to piece together elements of their shared past, but her childhood memories are fraught with inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Liam's death also makes her keenly aware of her own less-than-satisfying adult life: "I was living my life in inverted commas. I could pick up my keys and go 'home' where I could 'have sex' with my 'husband' just like lots of other people did. This is what I had been doing for years. And I didn't seem to mind the inverted commas, or even notice that I was living in them, until my brother died." (p. 181) When did it all go wrong?

As winner of the 2007 Booker Prize, The Gathering has received more than its share of reviews. It seems to be a "love it or hate it" book, mostly because it is so bleak. This is, indeed, a very sad book. Each person seems to be lost in their own island of grief, unable to support one another. Veronica withdraws completely; her siblings are each caught up in their own childhood baggage and destructive behavior patterns. As the book draws to a close, the truth has proven to be elusive, and the future is uncertain. Those looking for neat and tidy endings will be disappointed, but I found The Gathering's stark realism to be both intense and memorable.
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LibraryThing member LukeS
The occasion of her brother's death triggers a harrowing spiral of memory and soul-searching in Veronica Hegarty, a 39-year-old Dublin wife and mother. Veronica comes from a family of 12 children, but it is not a particularly close family. Veronica, her (now dead) brother Liam, and little sister Kitty were shunted off together to live with their grandmother for extended stretches of their childhood. During these stays in a Dublin neighborhood called Broadstone, Veronica and her brother suffer at the hands of their grandmother's landlord.

In "The Gathering" Anne Enright captures in the first person the oblique, lurching brush with madness induced in the surviving sister - a stunning achievement. The sentences in this novel - the recorded thoughts of an angry, haunted woman - rush and burrow and spike their way into Veronica's and our conscious view. Veronica struggles her way through a crisis, and decides after a half-hearted attempt at running away, that maybe she'll embrace her life.
The language in "The Gathering" slowly and subtly gains clarity, perfectly reflecting the hero/narrator's state of mind. The dramatic internal dialogue is the V-8 engine roaring through this arcing skyrocket of a novel. Don't look for an intricate plot; the intricacies here involve the internal struggle to come to grips with a highly toxic past - some of us succeed and some don't. Veronica's brother Liam committed suicide under the burden.

Ms. Enright has written a remarkable book in a way that defies expectation or definition or classification. It's a highly personal, scary, death-defying journey that won the Man Booker Prize, and for this reviewer, there is no wonder in that at all.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
Well, I really hate to be blunt, but I might as well get this out. Booker prize material? I don't think so. The Gathering is a fine story about a woman trying to cope after the suicide of her brother. She begins to look back in her life and in that of her rather large Irish family to find out why her brother, the two of them only 11 months apart, would have taken turns in life that led to his death.

The writing is quite good, but I seriously couldn't wrap my head around this book; it really failed to grab me as did the other Booker nominees I've read so far.

I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys stories about grief and coping with loss; it is an incredibly bleak kind of novel,though, so if you're looking for a feel-good kind of read, stay away.

I don't know...maybe it's just me but I just couldn't really embrace this novel. Maybe others will enjoy it much more than I did.
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LibraryThing member riofriotex
It's hard to believe this book won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2007 (the British Commonwealth equivalent to the National Book Award for fiction).

In a word, this book was awful. Dark and depressing. Characters I couldn't care about. Very little plot, and the events jump all over in time and are hard to follow. The narrator, Veronica, returns to her mother's home Dublin along with seven siblings for the funeral of her brother Liam, who committed suicide. Much of the book is about her grandmother Ada, the mysterious Lambert Nugent who is in love with her, and Veronica and Liam's childhood days spent in Ada's home.

This felt like one of those books you'd be assigned to read in high school honors or college English class, supposedly full of stuff to discuss and analyze. If I hadn't had to read it for book club, I would have stopped after 51 pages - and Enright doesn't really get to the point until pages 142 and 224 (out of 261).

Don't waste your time on this one like I did.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Anne Enright won the 2007 Booker Prize for this novel set in Dublin which centers around a woman’s long repressed childhood memories. Veronica Hegerty is one of twelve children - a large and dysfunctional family with dark and unspoken secrets. The suicide of Veronica’s wayward brother Liam provides the catalyst for Veronica’s traumatic memories to surface. Told from Veronica’s point of view and switching from past to present and back to past again, the story is a twisting tale about the reliability of long buried events and the importance of uncovering secrets. Veronica’s revelations about what happened in her grandmother’s home so many years in the past are tangled up in alternative stories fabricated by Veronica, woven together with guilt and shame.

Veronica is a cold, cynical person - angry with her mother’s passivity, confused about her brother’s choices, and ambivalent about her siblings.

She is a woman struggling in a rocky marriage which is made more unstable by Veronica’s negative view of men. But, she is not all hardness and anger. Veronica’s love for her children leaps from the pages and as the novel unfolds, the reader is drawn to Veronica, wanting to understand her and make sense of her life.

Enright leaves the reader with ambiguity in the end. The facts are hazy and the outcome of all the characters’ futures are unsure.

The power of this novel comes from Enright’s fresh language and her ability to expose her characters’ faults. Time and again I found myself stunned by the searing choice of words and phrasing; the graphic descriptions; and Enright’s ability to take the reader to an uncomfortable place to drive home her point.

The Gathering is a tough book which deals with a difficult subject matter. Enright seems to purposefully set out to shock the reader - dragging her through the muck of dysfunction and pain, stirring up the sediment in the lives of the characters to reveal their souls. Written with a great deal of intelligence, unerringly true to its characters, and staggering in its scope - The Gathering is a novel which is not easily forgotten.

Highly recommended; rated 4.5/5.
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LibraryThing member warda
As I am capable of reading for content very quickly, truly great books fall into two categories for me - the ones I race through in eager anticipation of the next plot or character revelation, and the ones I slow down to a crawl through, luxuriating in every carefully chosen word. This book falls into the latter category. Memories are fickle things, a complex combination of truth, wish, speculation and delusion, and Enright masterfully shows us how damaging (and rehabilitating) they can be. I was particularly impressed by her ability to unexpectedly and astoundingly show me an entire person in a seemingly careless paragraph ... the narrator's dead brother is the focal point of her obsessions, yet remains elusive for the first hundred-plus pages until a few lines involving the dismantling of a telephone reveal most of what we need to know. 5/5.… (more)
LibraryThing member TerryWeyna
The winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007, The Gathering is one of the angriest novels I have ever read. It's not entirely clear exactly what Veronica Hegarty, the narrator of the novel, is so angry about, because there is such a rich smorgasbord of things possible causes for: the lack of attention paid to her throughout her life by her mother, who usually cannot even remember her name because her time and attention has been divided among 12 children and shredded by a total of 19 pregnancies; a husband who might be cheating on her, who might be acting the loving husband instead of actually being a loving husband; the very fact that she is female, and therefore has been subject for her entire life to the whims of men and the confusions of being a woman during the second half of the 20th century, when what it meant to be a woman was undergoing genuine change. But one cause seems to predominate: Veronica's brother Liam, a mere 11 months older than she, has just committed suicide.

This saga of an Irish family begins with Veronica's grandmother, Ada, who meets Lamb Nugent in the foyer of a hotel in 1925. Ada is there about a job; Lamb works behind the desk. Nugent falls in love with Ada from the moment she twitches her gloves off with precise movements:

"It has already happened. It happened when she walked in the door; when she looked about her, but only as far as the chair. It happened in the perfection with which she managed to be present but not seen. And all the rest was just agitation: first of all that she should notice him back (and she did - she noticed his stillness), and second that she should love him as he loved her; suddenly, completely, and beyond what had been allocated to them as their station."

It comes as a shock after Veronica tells this story, all in precise, careful, lovely language, each moment so vividly recalled in her imagination that the reader can't help but picture the hotel lobby, the 19-year-old girl and her admirer, to learn that Nugent does not become Ada's husband. Instead, Ada marries Charlie, Nugent's best friend, a man constantly nipping out to "see a man about a dog" and to gamble - a man bad with money, but who adores Ada and whom she adores as well. And Lamb? He is there, with his wife and his four children, and he is the landlord for the Hegarty family. And he never stops loving Ada. And he gets his revenge.

But what does that have to do with Liam, and Liam's suicide, and Veronica's anger? For her anger goes beyond the place it would have as one of the stages of grieving; it extends to her living brothers and sisters, her mother, her husband, even, seemingly, to Ireland itself. This book glows red with anger:

"I know that these men [men with easy hearts] exist, I have even met them, it is just that I could never love one, even if I tried. I love the ones who suffer, and the love me. They love to see me sitting on their nice Italian furniture, and they love to see me cry.

"And I know how silly it is. You don't kill someone by having sex with them. You kill them with a knife, or a rope, or a hammer, or a gun. You strangle them with their tights. You do not kill them with a penis. So it is all - the I hate you, I love you, I hate - a dream of killing and dying, I understand that much; that when you roll away from each other go to sleep, then the dream is over for another day."

Veronica who has lost her way in this world, but did not realize it until her brother died. That brother, and his story, is the driving force in this book, but is not truly the source of Veronica's deep anger, anger so deep it is depression as well as fury. This is a hard book to read; not enjoyable, but open, almost like a corpse splayed in autopsy, welling with emotion. It is the story of a family that has never been happy, even as it has been successful, even as it has grown and prospered, even as the siblings cling to and love one another. Nevertheless, it is beautifully rendered. It is worthy of its prize.
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LibraryThing member otterley
Clearly a very polarising book. Much to admire and to appreciate in the writing and the complex web of construction, but the emotional centre (the traumatising events that led to the suicide of Liam Hegarty) feels too much of a cliche to hold the fragments and dreams of story together. Enright deals deftly, originally and humorously with Irish story telling norms in some places (the priest sibling losing his faith, the Celtic tiger bourgeois, the alcoholic sister, the country farmer uncle) and I would have preferred more of that to the gloom that more predictably suffuses the story...… (more)
LibraryThing member Beej415
This book is very aggravating. The writing style is at times beautiful, and at times meandering. The story comes together at the very end (and while reading, it seems the story will never come together), explaining how past events and associations continue to haunt the Hegarty family. But, the presentation was choppy, with the narrator almost in free association mode. The characters are, for the most part, fairly well fleshed out. Maybe the most interesting aspect of the book is how it deals with the issue of history, especially family history, as being at once factual and fictional, and how that inconsistency informs how we view ourselves and others. But, the story itself is really depressing. Overall, I was not satisfied.… (more)
LibraryThing member AlisonY
The Gathering is written in a stream of consciousness style, chronicling the narrator's conflicting thoughts through the journey of dealing with the aftermath of her brother's death.

I'm a little undecided about how much I liked this book. On the plus side, I enjoyed the 'Irishness' of it - Enright caught the conversation style perfectly, and coming from N. Ireland many of the character types and settings resonated (especially the older characters). Ironically, whilst reading a book about the initial days after a family death I experienced a death within my own family, so the scenario of going to visit the body in the house and eating crustless sandwiches seemed all too real.

(Incidentally, I'm curious - is this just an Irish thing bringing bodies back to the family house and going in to see them? My English husband can't get his head around this at all.)

I thought Enright captured well the often conflicted emotions around a family death, especially when the person who died was loved but not always liked. The narrator grapples with this conflict in her own head, and the stream of consciousness style works well to describe the jumble of thoughts and feelings and erratic actions that her grief triggers.

On the negative, I found the first half of the book was a little dull and I kept putting it aside with no great will to pick it up again. The second half worked better as all the pieces started to fit together, but essentially this is a book about grief and emotions much more than plot.

In all, I quite enjoyed this book, but probably respected it more than loved it. It's razor sharp with its emotional insight, but the incoherency of its grief-addled thoughts did not always make enjoyable reading.

3.5 stars - a fair Man Booker winner? In terms of craft rather then enjoyment - yes, I'd say so.
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LibraryThing member carolcarter
In prior years I have only read the Booker Prize winners. It makes a difference. I have now read three of the shortlist and I still have to say that Darkmans should have won. However, I am not a literary critic and they have their own criteria. Anne Enright's book is definitely a page turner - I could not put it down. It is certainly written in a unique voice and it has a lot to say about families and how we love and hate each other. But I still maintain Darkmans' superiority.

The Gathering is the story of a funeral which brings together eight of the surviving siblings of an (obviously) catholic family. One of the brothers has committed suicide. The tale is narrated by Veronica, the sister closest to the dead Liam. Technically the entire book is in Veronica's head. There is almost no actual dialogue. In an attempt to understand her brother's death, Veronica takes a mental trip back through three generations. Enright is very skillful at showing how memories can be made and remade and sorted out but never understood totally. As Veronica remembers and resorts her memories and imagines her grandmother's past we slowly learn the horror that is at the heart of so much that is wrong with her family. It is an old horror. I won't tell you - you must read it for yourself.

This is an excellent book, don't get me wrong, I just think Darkmans should have edged it out. That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. Enjoy the book. It is not nearly so dark as they would have you believe.
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LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
The gathering of the title is in fact a wake which draws back together the scattered members of a dysfunctional Irish family.

Liam Hegarty has committed suicide by walking into the sea at Brighton with stones in his pocket, and his sister Veronica, closest to him in age, closest to him emotionally, takes upon herself the task of bringing the body home. But confronting the death of her alcoholic brother creates a crisis in her too, and brings her to the point of breakdown.

There is much in her own life she must take apart and examine, beginning with the anger has long harboured towards her parents for their feckless fecundity. The strain of continuous childbirth (they had a total of twelve children from nineteen pregnancies, a large number even by the standard of Irish Catholic families) leaves Veronica’s mother unable to properly function mentally to the extent that she cannot even remember her daughter’s name. Veronica is hurt and angry at this apparent amnesia, angry too at the way the children were themselves forced into a parenting role and had to bring each other up.

She and Liam were farmed out to their grandmother, Ada, when their mother was no longer able to cope with them, and she realises that it was here that something happened which fundamentally changed Liam’s nature and planted the seeds of despair that lead to his slide into alcoholism and subsequent suicide. Was he sexually abused? She struggles to uncover memories which she has suppressed for decades, not always sure if the images which fill her mind are accurate representations of what actually happened – or perhaps didn’t happen.

Most novels play out the past in flashbacks which make memory appear to be an instantly accessible video with every detail rendered distinctly. This is of course not at all how our minds work, and Enright shows how an apparently solid memory of an event has to be modified in the light of objective evidence. “I don’t know if I have the correct picture in my mind,” she says, and talks of “shifting stories and waking dreams” which she must sift through to find the truth.

“One of my strongest memories of Liam is him peeing through a wire fence” she says at one point, only to discover later in the novel that the fence was made of railings. If she can be wrong about small details, can she be so certain about the bigger picture?

The novel also deals with the way that pain and dysfunction can be passed on from generation to generation. Veronica cannot make sense of what happened in her grandmother’s house without making sense of the strange love triangle in which her grandmother found herself? Yet she has no access to that except through imaginative reconstruction.

The Gathering is perhaps the bravest and the most innovative of the novels which made it to the Booker shortlist, but with its exploration of death and loss and family pain it is often an unsettling read.
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LibraryThing member bobbieharv
I expected to love this but instead was disappointed. It's more a rumination, about her brother's short life, than a story. We get a sense of the dysfunctional family one expects in a book like this, but ultimately it didn't hold my interest. Writing was excellent, of course.
LibraryThing member slmr4242
Far too much pedophilia. It icked me out so much that I could not actually finish.
LibraryThing member coolmama
Beautifully written. Her style is tight and she chooses each word very carefully.
I found this to be an odd book. The narrator, Veronica Hegarty is so unreliable. What happened in her grandparents past & what didn't. Was she the product of abuse, or not? I found many passages slightly hallucinogenic and was unclear what was going on. That said, the story of this dyfunctional and large Irish family was one I will not forget.… (more)
LibraryThing member cestovatela
I do not know if I have ever read a book so simultaneously gloomy and engrossing. Melancholy, exhaustion and disconnection suffuse nearly every page of the book, but no matter how heavily it weighed on me, I could not put it down...or stop appreciating the literary mastery needed to create such an atmosphere. The book centers on the death of Liam, one of 12 children in an Irish Catholic family. The "gathering" in the title is, not surprisingly, his funeral, but it is also the gathering of the suppressed memories that led to his death and his sister Veronica's emotional crippling.

"I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me -- this thing that may not have taken place. I don't even know what name to put to it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones," Veronica, the narrator, writes on the first page of the novel. Each chapter carries us deeper into Veronica's psyche as she tries to navigate the labyrinth of grief, memory, love, sex and a budding alcohol problem. I was often uncertain where this twisted web of memories was taking me and, subsequently, what the book wanted to tell me. Yet, in spite of my frustration with Veronica's selfishness and the seeming randomness of the plot, I was propelled irresistably forward by my longing to know what happened to the two main characters.

Some people might hate this book and I can't say that I would blame them. It would be easy to find Veronica insufferable, the atmosphere too dense, the plot too labyrinthine or the ending too ambiguous to be satisfying. For me, each of these possible "too much"-es made the book worth savoring. Everything in the book can be interpreted in more than one way, which is my very favorite kind of book. You cannot read it without thinking and interpreting.

Bottom line: read at your own risk. I imagine a lot of people will love this book and a lot of people will hate it, but few will fall in between.
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LibraryThing member gocam
Although there are some wonderfully written passages (the energised hotel meeting of two of the players stands out), this novel was, for me, devoid of any sort of joy (whether that be in terms of the narrative, imagery or general use of language), rambling and tremendously frustrating. Characters need not be appealing for a work to be successful, of course, and indeed they are not - but it is the general morosity of the narrator and accompanying characters that eventually wound me down half-way through the book and i had to stop - no doubt ahead of some wonderfully conclusive realizations that I am happy to miss out on ! Yes people have hard lives, yes some families were very large, yes those families have black sheep, yes Ireland has some wonderfully complex history and characters, but ticking the check boxes does not a great novel make.… (more)
LibraryThing member browner56
An almost middle-aged woman flies from her home in Dublin to retrieve the body of her brother who has drowned himself in the English sea. The two siblings, who were close in both age and temperament, come from an Irish Catholic working class family of twelve kids, to say nothing of the seven miscarriages that their “Mammy” suffered. The brother’s corpse is being brought back for a wake in the house from which the family has long since scattered but where Mammy still lives. Of course, this is no simple journey for the sister, her brother’s suicide having unleashed a torrent of conflicting feelings, emotions, and regrets. In particular, she is trying her best to come to grips with memories of some terrible things that may or may not have happened while the two were forced by Mammy’s fragile health to spend a season living with their grandparents. Resolving these repressed visions—and understanding the role they may have played in her brother’s demise—is the essential premise of The Gathering.

Beyond that brief synopsis, maybe the best way to critique this novel would be to describe Veronica Hegarty, the narrator of the story and the ostensible protagonist of this woeful clan. To characterize her, I found myself running through a list of “un” words: unlikeable, unreliable, unrelenting, uncertain, unsympathetic, uninteresting, and, most of all, unbearable. And that set of uns would be a good way to describe the entire book as well. Although author Anne Enright certainly delivered some stylish prose at times, the story itself was told in a disjoint manner that was almost wholly devoid of warmth or compassion. Veronica is truly a mess in ways that were hard to reconcile with the secrets of her past; her tendency toward both self-pity and self-loathing were off-putting and her combined obsession/revulsion with sex was unhealthy, to say the least. Although learning to live with—if not exactly rise above—the pains inflicted by a dysfunctional family upbringing is one of the points of The Gathering, knowing that did not make the novel any more enjoyable to read.
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LibraryThing member beserene
Oh, Anne Enright, how I wish I could hate you. Let me share a little story: about two or three years ago (well before she won the Booker prize), I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Anne Enright when I arranged for her to speak to a class of study abroad students in Dublin. My professor, who as part of the study abroad course was teaching an Irish women's literature section, was particularly interested in Enright's perspective as, whaddyaknow, an Irish woman writer, but apparently this label offended Enright to no end. When she arrived, after a short train ride from Bray, she was the surliest, most unapproachable individual I have ever heard speak. She sat at the table, barely willing to articulate more than a few words together, and alienated the students that we were paying her several hundred euros to enlighten (for heaven's sake, even in some minor way). It was, at a word, frustrating, and so this summer, when I met her again at a larger and more formal function, I was loathe to allow myself any enjoyment at the occasion. I rolled my eyes as she spoke about the newly discovered burden of fame and felt quite satisfied when she gave evidence of being, if not so surly as before, at least solidly antagonistic toward much of the world. It was enough, at least, to perpetuate my particular understanding of her a little while longer.

Actually, I would have been content to heartily dislike the woman for the rest of my life, if she weren't such a genius on the page. I say this, so you can believe it, with the full weight of a grudge long held -- I wish I could consign this woman's work to the bin, at least verbally, with some erudite critical lashing, but the fact is, the fact remains, that she is a bloody genius. This book, The Gathering, for which she won the Booker prize, is the sort of novel that clings to you. Just as its characters do within the story, the book itself gets under your skin. You find yourself looking out of windows, or neglecting the whistling kettle, not so much thinking, not coherently, about reading one more chapter, but feeling an indistinct urge to return to the narrative -- to see the finish of these lives, as much as you will ever see it. There is a certain magic to her first-person style that feels so intimate, it's almost as if you, the reader, are becoming tangled in the narrator's emotions. And these are not happy emotions. This is no romance novel where one delights in the happy bubble bursting in your chest as the love ripples out of the page. One does not want these feelings and yet there is no escaping them. "Drawn in" is a phrase we use when we speak of good books, of favorite plots and fantasy epics, but it is not quite right here. It's more like being hooked, and struggling to be free.

The prose is occasionally complex, occasionally even slightly incoherent, which is where Enright seems to excel even in comparison with the rest of her writing. Inside the narrator's head, things are a jumble, and so we are jumbled along with them, and even clarity is not quite clear, in the end. I cannot say that this book is charming, or delightful, or any of those bright, easy words that describe so many of the books I like to read. I don't really know that I liked to read this book at all. But I was compelled to, and it was brilliant, and as much as I would rather tell you that this whole thing was a stinking pile, I can't -- if you are a reader of literary fiction, or a connoisseur of prose, or even just an emotional type, then it is for you that I admit Anne Enright's brilliance. Surly thing that she is.
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LibraryThing member sanddancer
I fail to see why this was deemed worthy of the Booker Prize. I expected it to be difficult reading given that the story centred on abuse, but I didn't expect it to be so dull. A family gather for the funeral of a brother whose life was ruined by the abuse he suffered as a child. The family gathering and abuse revelations are well-worn plots and this one didn't have any memorable characters to lift it above being dull. By the end of the book, I didn't feel I knew any of the characters any better and in some cases I still didn't know who was who.… (more)
LibraryThing member siafl
I went through like-dislike phases with this book, but regretfully towards the end I found myself losing interest and appreciation. Not that there weren't moments when I thought "Brilliant!" It just for some reason didn't work for me as well as it should have. I was finally tired to try to find out how the narrator was like her grandmother, how she and her siblings were "interfered with" and how they were affected by their childhood experiences.

There were times when I tried to draw parallelisms between this book and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, which I enjoyed reading tremendously. But beyond the fact that both are Irish and both talk about the miserable Catholic Irish childhood with a drinking problem somewhere in the household, I am not sure that this book turns out as appealing to me as the other. I found myself tired of the excessive phallic references, which I understood to be necessary. But there's a fine line between stylistic necessity and vulgarity, and I think Enright crossed it with this attempt. This is not to say, of course, that I don't think the author has a great writing style.
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LibraryThing member queencersei
Do they have negative ratings? Never was such a highly reviewed book such a crashing disapointment.
LibraryThing member kambrogi
When Veronica goes to pick up her dead brother Liam's body and return it home to her large Irish family, she begins a long-avoided journey into the past. By sifting through three generations of family life, she works her way back to the secret that irreparably damaged her brother, and herself as well. This is an angry book, told by a narrator brilliantly in character throughout her painful, bitter, confused and heartbroken path to the truth. There are times when it seems rather disjointed and scattered, but ultimately it ties up perfectly, with every detail falling into place. Beautifully written, but still a rather dark and dismal journey for the reader.… (more)


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