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[133] The Gathering – Anne Enright

Man Booker Reading Challenge #3

“I am saying that, the year you sent us away, your dead son was interfered with, when you were not there to comfort or protect him, and that interference was enough to send him on a path that ends in the box downstairs. That is what I am saying, if you want to know.” (213)

The Hegartys is a big family, too big, and is not without its misfortune. There has been twelve children and seven miscarriages. They gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, who drowned in the sea. The death has been a suicide, one that the victim has carefully planned so his body could be easily located by the bright color of his jacket. While most of the siblings and the somewhat forgetful mother would mourn in deference to a grief that is biological and oligatory, Veronica, to whom Liam is very close, tries to seek the truth of what might have sent her brother on the road to no return. A secret that she shares with Liam, something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968, something that was beyond a child’s innocence, could plant the seed of Liam’s destruction, because their parents were not there to comfort and protect him.

Veronica, who was 8, eleven months younger than Liam, could only recall the vague scenes from that summer and the ambiguous relationship between their grandmother and two men. Veronica does not know why Ada married Charlie (their grandfather), when it was Nugent who had her measure. Nor does she perceive much of their undertakings. Her memories and comprehension might fail and she has to create a story for what she might have seen. The impossibility of her understanding of their affairs contributes to a kind of unreality that doesn’t truly account for the actual events and most importantly, what exactly happened to Liam. Maybe it was fear, or anger, or both, that for years she has downtuned and avoided altogether the shocking event that she saw in that living room. She is not sure if it really happened or it was just a dream–for sure she didn’t want it to have happened, even though she felt it roaring menacingly inside her. That she had no words to describe it does not mean it didn’t take place. Was it crime of the flesh?

The secret only binds her even closer to Liam but alienates her from the family.

The writing is unsparing. It doesn’t aim to supply consolation but to deliver an unflinching look at a grieving family in which secrets and betrayal reign over generations. Memory warp and the slow revelation of events, along with jump-cut chronology, render the reading a bit difficult and disjointed at some parts of the book. The element of death is powerfully employed to emphasize the meaning of life, for most people would contrmplate the meaning oof life in the face of death. For whatever secret and wound that might have wreaked havoc in the family, in the face of adversity one must have felt compelled to live and to appreciate life. After all, in all the darkness that Enright has portrayed, the book still glitters and reminds us of hope.


11 Responses

  1. Thanks for this review. It’s on my BookMooch list, and I’m even more excited now.

  2. I had the feeling of unease that you did. I suspected what the secret was, but the horror of when it was revealed was still powerful.

  3. I just skimmed your review as I have this on my TBR pile. I’ve heard mixed things about it, but I’m still looking forward to reading it.

  4. Mixed things about sums it up, Danielle! The book has definitely polarised opinion in a way that few award-winning titles do. I read it last August when it was longlisted for the Booker Prize in the UK, and even now, all these months later, I am not sure how much I liked it…

  5. Andi:
    It’s quite a different type of read. Not straight-forward and could be strenuous at points.

    I wasn’t as discerning. I had no clue what the secret might be until it was pouring down on me. But thinking back how she has paved for the climax of revelation, she’s a very good novelist!

  6. Danielle:
    Reviews seem to have split right in the middle — people either love it or hate it. It would be interesting to see which side you’re on. 🙂

    John Self:
    Award-winning titles seem to attract either eulogy or trample. It’s definitely not my favorite book, but the exquisite writing is well worth the reading effort.

  7. […] A Month in the Country, J.L. Carr 2. A Shorty History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka 3. The Gathering, Anne […]

  8. […] A Month in the Country, J.L. Carr 2. A Shorty History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka 3. The Gathering, Anne […]

  9. hi, great review. i am reading this book for summer reading and the book is a bit boring and cant seem to get through it..what is the secret at grandmas house in the winter????

  10. […] Review 2006 Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss (India) 2007 Anne Enright The Gathering (Ireland)* Review 2008 Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (India)* Review 2009 Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall (UK)* Review 2010 […]

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