Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The suicide of a brother forces an affluent woman to confront family secrets

On the surface, Dublin’s Hegarty family, with Mammy, Daddy, the twelve kids, is the classic devout Irish Catholic family. However, the chaotic reality of their upbringing was significantly more hellish. Veronica, a middle child, claws her way free and constructs a more tranquil family life, but is unable to save Liam, her closest sibling, who is a drunk and a fuckup. When Liam drowns himself in England, Veronica returns to the family home to oversee the funeral. Once there, she remembers (and also imagines) family secrets, secrets that could be the root of Liam’s pain. Because one summer, long ago, Mammy became overwhelmed, and Veronica and Liam are sent to stay with their Grandmother Ada. Something happened there (or did it?).  The novel is about Veronica beginning to remember.

The story is beautifully, evocatively written, and technically skillful.  The numerous siblings are memorable, delineated in quick crazy observations. The plot is submerged, but surfaces periodically to move the story along when needed. Much of the book consists of Veronica's voice: thinking about the past, taking field trips to visit the past, mourning the inevitable death of her brother. Veronica hates her middle class life – the life she struggled so hard to build as a contrast, a rebuke, to the emotionally neglectful way she was raised. Extended passages are set in the distant past and concern the life of her grandmother, and Ada’s choice between two suitors: Charlie, her good-timey husband, and the very careful very creepy Lambert Nugent.

I wasn’t quite sure what happened at the end – events surged to produce a happy ending. Or at least an ending that wasn’t boxed in with despair. Overall, a wonderful book.

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