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Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Gathering - Book Review by Ann Enright - A Very Special Novel

This is a very special book and I am sure a lot of people would find it too dark, gloomy, scattered and disconnected; this is true for sure, but I still really enjoyed it.

The Gathering is a about Veronica's loss of her brother Liam, her very special brother in a large Irish family of twelve. The figure of the grandmother is dominant throughout the entire novel, as a beautiful yet aloof woman. The grandmother histories with three different men, a brother who has gone mad, a devoted husband and, more prominently, a shadowy admirer friend of the husband are revealed gradually as we go through the novel. Perhaps, more accurately, they are revealed as Veronica searches her mind and whatever records she can find making sense of the loss of Liam.

Veronica is in deep pain and sadness at the death of her brother, she is tormented by it to her very core; her life is truly in tatters. The grandmother figure is there, not necessarily being judged fully, and not presented as a complete well rounded person but as Veronica delves deeper into her sorrow she understands more and more about Ada. Liam's figure is also revealed, mostly as a sad lost alcoholic man who had trouble making something out of his life.

The portrayal of the Veronica's own mother is more distant, deliberately cardboard like, a child bearing machine with weakening memory and limited interests, a small banal dependent person to be loved, cared for and somewhat disdained.

Veronica looks at her entire life, her husband, he daughters, her various surviving brothers and sister and anguishes at the loss of her brother and at her own life.

Many reviewers of the book described it as a look into a dysfunctional Irish family, in a sense it is, but this was not the overwhelming feeling I had reading it. For me, it was Veronica's wading deeper into her mind and opening the floodgates of memories to make sense of the loss of Liam, of their estrangement or at least distance as they got older, of the distance from her own youth. The beauty of the language and the intelligence with which the reader is moved along make for a brilliant, reflective, slow meandering, and ultimately a very rewarding read.