The Gathering by Anne Enright
Vintage Books, 2008
It does not matter. I do not know the truth, or I do not know how to tell the truth. All I have are stories, night thoughts, the sudden convictions that uncertainty spawns. All I have are ravings, more like.
Veronica Hegarty is mourning the loss of her brother Liam, who drowned in England. Out of all her siblings – a family of 12 – he was the one she was closest to. This in itself would make the grieving difficult, but in addition, she feels an unbearable guilt that she never helped her brother after what she witnessed at their grandparents house when they were both very young. Could she have saved him from alcoholism and suicide by speaking out?
We witness Veronica essentially have a breakdown of sorts, as she closes herself off to everyone around her – husband, children, mother, siblings – and tries to recall what may, or may not, have happened in her grandmother’s house.
This is a beautifully told, yet slippery, tale, which accurately portrays the anguish and doubts going on in Veronica’s mind. She very often remembers things vividly in one way, yet knows that in reality they could not have unfolded that way. I found it fascinating the way Enright was able to weave the unreliability of memories throughout the story.
Delving into her childhood, the life of her grandmother, and the difficult relationship she has with her mother, we learn about the past and how she is using the present to process long-suppressed thoughts.
The Gathering won the Man Booker in 2007, and it’s easy to see why. Despite the dark subject matter, it still manages to be witty and original, with a distinctively Irish flavour to the dialogue (which actually made me kind of homesick! But in a good way.)
A great, if haunting, read.