The Gathering
Anne Enright
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The Gathering
Anne Enright
Grove Press/Black Cat
272 pages
September 2007
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Most of us start out in life as a member of a family, a part of a group we belong to, surrounded by people we may not have chosen but we somehow manage to love - or at least tolerate - anyway. The narrator of Anne Enright's The Gathering, Veronica Hegarty, is the middle child of 12, surrounded by egos and talents and personalities that overwhelm her at times. Her poor mother, who gave birth to these 12 living children along with seven miscarriages,, has to work very hard at remembering Veronicaís name; thatís how lost she in within the crowd of siblings. She tells us that she finds Ďbeing part of a family is the most excruciating possible way to be alive.í

The family gathers for their brotherís funeral - Liam, who one day donned a brightly colored vest and placed stones in his pockets before walking into the sea at Brighton Beach.

Veronica thinks she knows why Liam killed himself. She thought she witnessed him being sexually abused when he was nine and she was eight. She canít be sure, though. Maybe it was a repressed memory, or maybe it was no memory at all. Maybe it had happened to her and not to Liam at all. She makes assumptions, then rethinks her findings. She conjures up her grandmotherís behaviors and plunges into self-annihilation. She blames her parents for having too much sex. Veronica is, in fact, almost obsessed with sex, although she seldom practices it.

Her insomnia magnifies everything out of proportion. Her childhood memories are often miserable. She recalls only the things that caused her pain: ĎThis is how we all survive. We default to the oldest scar.í And that is precisely what persuaded Liam to end his own life, or so she believes.

Veronica is not a very likable character. It can be a struggle to remain connected to her and to her story. Itís easy to get a little lost on Veronicaís dark path, and so the reader stumbles along just as Veronica does. It is a bleak and hopeless world, and Veronica endures it through self-absorption. There is little dialogue. The book consists almost entirely of Veronicaís drunkardís-path attempts at reasoning.

There is one little glimmer of hope, a tiny surprise that emerges near the end. Perhaps Liam would be alive still had he known this secret.

This book recently won the 2007 Man Booker Prize. I give it 4.5 stars for being a compelling story, although not an entirely engaging one.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Elaine Pontious, 2007

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