Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
The Gathering is the incredible and moving story of Veronica and her trying to remember and to understand the events that happened in her grandmother’s house the summer she was eight or nine (did they even really happen?). The novel starts shortly after Veronica finds out about the suicide of Liam, the brother she was closest to. We are introduced to her traditional Irish family, to her numerous siblings and to her distant mother but the focus on the novel remains on him.
As Veronica tells about the special bond between them during their childhood, we understand what might have pushed Liam into alcoholism and, eventually, to his tragic death. The novel thus follows Veronica’s quest for answers and her attempts to understand her life and the way she feels. Veronica’s honesty is striking (and sometimes disturbing) and her strange ambivalent relationship with her husband (as stressed by the recurring motive of love/hate and sex/pain) gradually makes sense to the readers.
The event Veronica tries to remember is the catalyst for many years of unhappiness for both her and Liam. Veronica’s journey to recovery is a painful one that mixes trauma, guilt, hatred and confusion and reading The Gathering was intense at times. The narrative culminates during the gathering of the whole family for Liam’s funerals – a touching scene in which we encounter the whole family. Reading the title of the book as the simple gathering of the family would be a mistake though: it is also about the gathering of evidence and of repressed memories. Like Veronica, we need to gather up all the evidence that make the whole story.
It is, however, an amazing declaration of love to her dear brother. Enright’s novel shows the necessity to accept the past in order to move on and to finally stop “living in parentheses” – an image that persists throughout the novel.
The ending remains open and neither the readers nor Veronica are certain of what happened that summer. In a radio interview I listened to, Anne Enright gives a definite answer and I regret listening to it now. No matter how frustrating open endings can be, they are necessary to the plots.
This novel was beautiful and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It is the most touching one I’ve read so far for Contemporary Fiction and even since I started my degree at UEA.
So go buy it. Now.