Book Review – The Gathering by Anne Enright

“Because, at this moment, I find that being part of a family the most excruciating possible way to be alive.” (Page 243) I have to disagree. The most unbearable way to live is by reading about the Hegarty family in Anne Enright’s The Gathering. Even for those wanting to read about sad dysfunctional families, this novel will be a challenge. It should come with a bottle of anti-depressants.

The Gathering began with Veronica Hegarty learning that her brother Liam killed himself. (I’m wondering if he read an advance copy of Ms. Enright’s manuscript.) Then the story became depressing: really depressing. The book stayed in Veronica’s point of view the whole time so there was no break from the angst. She reflected on her brother’s life and thought back about events that happened in her own: none of them good or life affirming.

I never thought anyone would be capable of writing anything gloomier than Theodore Dreiser’s Jennie Gerhart. In that sense, Ms. Enright deserves credit. I’d call this book morbid. I won’t give away spoilers for those who feel they’re too happy. I’m still trying to figure out the conflict in the story. Veronica’s goal wasn’t to avoid misery, that’s for sure.

I thought the usages of language in this novel bizarre.

I am a trembling mess from hip to knee. There is a terrible heat, a looseness in my innards that makes me want to dig my fists between my thighs. It is a confusing feeling—somewhere between diarrhea and sex—this grief that is almost genital. (Page 7)

I do have to agree on this point: I would call the sensation she describes as “confusing”, also.

I even found one passage in this book that offended me. I’m going to include it just so readers can see for themselves. They may make their own decision as to whether or not the segment below inappropriate.

I am sitting at a street café table, with perhaps my fifth latte of the day, when some American kids pass by, two girls and a guy. One of the girls is saying, ‘You know what really sucks? What really sucks are those button flies, when you miss a button?’ and the guy says, “And you’re like…this, you know?’ with his hands crossed at the wrist in front of his crotch, like a picture of the flagellated Christ. (Page 83)

If anyone can explain what the crucifixion of Jesus has to do with button fly jeans, please drop me a line.

Here’s a line I don’t think any romance writers will copy. I doubt it possible that anyone will describe love making in a similar fashion.

Tom had sex with me the night of the wake – as if Liam’s death had blown all the cobwebs away: the fuss and the kids and the big, busy job and the late nights spent strenuously not sleeping with other women. He was getting back to basics: telling me that he loved me, telling me that my brother might be dead but that he was very much alive. Exercising his right. I love my husband, but I lay there with one leg on either side of his dancing, country-boy hips and I did not feel alive. I felt like a chicken when it is quartered. (Page 40)

We won’t be seeing that last line on a Valentine’s Day card any time soon.

The Gathering also had the weirdest plot twist I’ve ever read. Veronica remembered her grandmother Ada’s courtship with a man named Nugent. After building this up for several pages she commented, “She did not marry Nugent, you will be relieved to hear. She married his friend Charlie Spillane.” (Page 22) That was the first time in the book she mentioned the character of Mr. Spillane. The author should’ve referenced him prior and added some foreshadowing. When I read the sentence I cited I had to go back and review it several times. It jarred me.

I’m not sure what else I can add here. While I thought the structure interesting, the story unsettled me. Are readers to believe that nothing positive ever happened to anyone in the Hegarty family? When I reached the end of the book I felt like Liam was the lucky one. I predict The Gathering will be gathering a lot of dust on bookstore shelves in the future.

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