Anne Enright

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"The Gathering"

(Reviewed by Leland Cheuk MAY 1, 2008)

“She has no idea how much has been done for her in the six days since the first phone call from Britain. She was spared all that: Kitty running around London and me around Dublin for dental records…None of this was read back to her as it was to me, this morning, by the very nice bean garda who called to the door, because I am the one who loved him most. I feel sorry for the policewomen – all they do is relatives, and prostitutes, and cups of tea.

There is saliva falling from my mother’s bottom lip now, in gobs and strings. Her mouth keeps opening. She keeps trying to close it but her lips refuse to stay shut and, ‘Gah. Gah,’ she says.

I must go over and touch her…I will do all this in deference to a grief that is biological, idiot, timeless.”

Veronica Hegarty, the protagonist in Anne Enright’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Gathering, is certainly not short on rage and bereavement in the aftermath of her estranged brother Liam’s suicide. Veronica rages against her mother, her husband, her sisters, her children, her brother, and ultimately herself as she slowly reveals the root of Liam’s self-destructive psychological tendencies. The Gathering might sound like a exercise in extended misery, a difficult wallow, but it is precisely Veronica’s uncommon voice rendered by Enright’s uncommon and fiercely intelligent prose that makes the novel so compelling.

Veronica is one of 12 Hegarty children brought together at Liam’s wake and from the start, it’s clear that Veronica feels a deeper connection to her lost brother than the rest of her family. “I am the one who has lost something that cannot be replaced,” Veronica narrates…[Her mother] would cry, no matter what son he was…She has plenty more.” And from this bottomless well of anger and grief, Veronica distances herself from her husband and children to grieve in private. She is besieged with insomnia and takes long night drives, recollecting her childhood with Liam, trying to understand why she survived the dysfunctional Hegartys and why Liam grew up to be an alcoholic who, one day, put a handful of stones in his pockets, took off his socks and underwear, and walked off a Brighton pier.

The key to Liam’s unraveling ultimately lies with Veronica’s grandmother Ada, who Veronica conjures as a young woman with a dangerous sexuality and beauty that borders on wanton. Sex, immoral and illicit, and faith in the absence of God, are key themes that drive the plot of The Gathering. Veronica’s portrayal of Ada as anything but matronly or maternal, her sensuous portrayal of Liam as desirable, but troubled, and Veronica’s portrayal of herself as cold to her husband but far from sexless creates an aura of sex around each primary character that sets the stage for the novel’s climatic revelation.

The Gathering is not a novel for the faint of heart. It is unremittingly dark, the humor is dry, and some readers will find themselves losing patience with Veronica’s brooding. Enright has essentially emptied her narrator’s internal baggage on the table and asked the reader to sort through the items. But the search is well worth what’s found.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 173 reviews


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About the Author:

Anne EnrightAnne Enright was born in 1962 in Dublin, Ireland. She studied for a degree in English and Philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin, and then won a scholarship to undertake a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She was taught by such greats as Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. She initially followed a career in television before becoming a successful writer.

During her six years as a producer and director at RTE in Dublin, Enright wrote in her free time and eventually saw the publication of a book of short stories. The success of this volume, which won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1991, allowed her to become a full-time writer in 1993.

She lives in Bray, Co Wicklow with her husband and children.

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