Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Trade, 263 pages, 2007
Reason for Reading: Part of my plan to read all of the Booker Prize Winners.
Synopsis: When her brother Liam is found in the sea at Brighton, an apparent suicide, Veronica can’t quite believe it – or maybe she can. He was an alcoholic, something that Veronica believes stemmed from his childhood, so when their mother and seven other surviving siblings gather for the funeral, she’s determined to peer back to see what went so horribly wrong. Convinced it has something to do with a secret that happened at her grandmother’s house, she also dwells on her life in a mix of reality and imaginings, determined to understand and justify (even just to herself) the tragically self-destructive actions of her closest brother.
Why you should read this book: The subject of family seems like the sort of topic we all know too well – until an author like Enright breathes new life into a wonderful story like she has with this book. Painfully honest, this novel takes your breath away as it shocks you and makes you think. So many of us think we know our family’s history, but when you take into account merely the secrets we ourselves keep from family members…well, you can imagine a huge family like this has one exquisitely tangled past. While The Gathering is by no means an uplifting book, it’s a deeply rewarding book that will make you feel like you understand human beings better after the last page – as depressed and uncomfortable as that may make you feel.
Why you should avoid this book: After winning the prize, Enright was quoted as saying her book was ‘the intellectual equivalent of a Hollywood weepie,’ an apt description on both points. Full of (well-written) bleakness, The Gathering could depress even the most cheerful amongst us. I’m not saying not to read it – I’m just saying to watch the timing of when you read it.
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. 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 on 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.
I think about nothing – there is nothing to think about. And then I think about a drink. Nothing messy. A fierce little naggin of whiskey, maybe, or gin. I float towards it in my nice Saab 9.3 – towards the idea of it, flowering in my mouth.
I am always thirsty when I leave that house – something to do with the unfairness of the place.
We parted with a smile that was as good as a handshake, and I went back to my own bed and lay down. It stayed with me for a day, maybe two; the freedom and chaos of fucking whoever caught your eye, the clarity of it, until suddenly I was prostrate and speechless with love for the Australian, endlessly lying there and listening to the house, the footsteps going through it, the voices and whispers; sorting through their rise and fall for the dull chirrup of his voice. I realized, too, that I was not in love with him, but condemned instead to a lifetime of such false intensities, that I would have to love each man I slept with in order not to hate myself, and the squalor in the house became suddenly insupportable to me, the damp and the mould, the fights over stolen cornflakes, the slow distance between Liam and the fishnet girl, garbled anguish from the room next door, and the dealer in the basement getting blow-jobs like a one-man brothel, with another girl always trembling outside on the stair.
Also recommended: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle; The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst; The Master by Colm TÃ³ibÃn.
Also by this author: The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch; What Are You Like?; The Wig My Father Wore; Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood.
Fun tidbit: In addition to winning the Booker Prize, The Gathering won the 2008 Irish Novel of the Year, the third book to win the title since the award began in 2006. The inaugural book was another Booker Prize winner, The Sea by John Banville.
Would I read more by this author? Yes, though there’s no huge rush. I might still be a little depressed from this book and it’s been a few months.
© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2008