2011 · Book Reviews · Fiction · Grief

The Gathering, Anne Enright


Published: 2008 by Vintage | Pages: 272

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968.

The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment , about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

The Gathering by Anne Enright is one of the most emotional reads I have come across with regard to my university course texts. The main narrative perspective is from Liam’s sister Veronica, who is left in charge of arranging the wake of her brother while identifying his body in Brighton. During this difficult time, Veronica is made to question everything in her life. Does she really love her husband? Does her mother really love her, or know which child she actually is? Did the event which shook her brother’s life actually happen in her grandmother’s house, or is it her imagination?

Throughout the novel, a main theme which runs throughout are Veronica’s insecurities with her own life. One is aware of how her husband and her are growing apart due to her withdrawal from reality. From this, the reader questions Veronica’s sanity due to passages of the book involving her wandering around her house at night, writing constantly about Ada, her grandmother and the event which changed her brother’s life. A prime example of this is the section of the text where she decides to drive through Dublin and out towards the sea. At this point in the novel, we start to understand how Veronica is desperately trying to get a sense of reality once more. If one applies the idea of trauma theory to her character, we can see how her withdrawal from her family, and her strange actions shows how she is desperately attempting to control reality and come to terms with past history which she has never addressed and understood before.

The core event of her and Liam’s life which is ambiguously referred to throughout the novel is the sexual abuse suffered by Liam from his next door, and who Veronica believes to be her mother’s secret admirer. We get the sense of their being an underlying evil throughout the text, but when Veronica actually describes the event, it is very explicit, but very direct. So one begins to ask the question, surely this happened didn’t it? I believe by Enright choosing to have this in the novel, she is showing the underlying problems in family life with regard to the keeping of secrets to protect people while actually damaging them more.

Another idea which can addressed is the use of stereotypes, which once again highlights the ideas of how things from the past can effect people. In this case, one can relate this idea to how drinking problems are sometimes linked to Ireland, which is portrayed through Liam’s death and is the initial blame for his physical death, but not psychological.

Throughout the novel, the reader is made to address the importance of family and home. One can see how there are two ways in which Enright conveys this idea, firstly by showing Veronica’s relationship with her family and her house, and secondly how her grandmother’s house in Ireland is remembered in different ways with her and her family. Her ‘mammy’ seems to be numb to everything around her, including the mention of her son’s death, her supposed lover from her younger years and her sheer ignorance with the event in her son and daughter’s life.

Overall, the novel takes you on a journey where one becomes aware of how events in a persons past can slowly destroy them rather than events immediately before their death. One begins to question family bonds and I realised how important family actually is, as well as honesty with your family members. Most definitely a thought evoking read.


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