I read several blog reviews of The Gathering by Anne Enright, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, and most had nothing but good things to say about the book. As those who read my blog know, I can't get enough of family sagas, so I had to add this to my ever-growing to-read list.
Veronica Hegarty, one of the 12 Hegarty children from Dublin, travels to England to pick up her dead brother, Liam, the victim of a suicide drowning. During the trip and later at the wake and funeral, Veronica reveals bits and pieces about her family, leading up to a terrible event that occurred in 1968 when she, Liam, and their sister, Kitty, stayed with their grandmother, Ada.
If I wasn't so curious about the secret, I would've stopped reading early on. Enright's writing isn't bad; I like the way her words flow, and I like her use of a first-person narrator to tell the family's story. Obviously, Veronica isn't going to be a reliable narrator as she comments about her parents, siblings, grandparents, husband, and children. She's honest about her feelings for these people, but these feelings cloud her judgment. And we never hear the story from someone else's point of view.
I can deal with that kind of unreliable narrator, but what bothered me most about The Gathering was Veronica's memory lapses, for lack of a better term. When it came to the big secret, she wasn't even sure if she remembered it correctly. Veronica also attempts to tell her grandmother's story beginning just before Ada met her grandfather, but she'd tell a story, then say, "No, maybe it happened like this...or maybe it happened like that," and by the time she told all the possibilities, I'd lost all interest in what really happened.
I also didn't like the character of Veronica very much. She gave into her grief and allowed it to ruin her relationships. I just thought her actions in the midst of grief were a bit much. I don't have to like the main character to enjoy a book, but Veronica's behavior and her memory lapses were distracting to the point where I didn't want to finish the book once the big secret was out.
However, there were two passages that struck a chord with me while reading, attracted me enough that I jotted them down:
Nothing bad happened yet in my life except the need to get out of it. (page 88)
But it is not just the sex, or remembered sex, that makes me think I love Michael Weiss from Brooklyn, now, seventeen years too late. It is the way he refused to own me, no matter how much I tried to be owned. It was the way he would not take me, he would only meet me, and that only ever halfway. I think I am ready for that now. I think I am ready to be met. (page 82)
Regardless of my feelings for Veronica, Enright was successful in depicting the long-term ramifications of a single event and how such events can change one's life, for better or for worse. And we can either wallow in the memories and self-destruct or move beyond them and recognize the good that's in our lives now.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Gathering from the library.