Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The Gathering, by Anne Enright
One reviewer called this book "stunning". While such adjectives are overused this one certainly applies in this case. This unassuming book packs a surprising punch.
Veronica is one of several children, somewhere in the middle of the group, who grow up, with a mother who is almost invisible and a father who dispassionately hits when people are in his way, near Dublin. The story centers around the suicide death of her brother Liam when Veronica is 39 years old. Veronica tells the story in the first person, dipping into and out of memory, slipping backward and forward in time. Her memories, though, are not exact. She has to guess most of the time and in some cases she embroiders deliberately, creating images she would like to have happened but knows probably did not. It is this aspect of the story that rang especially true for me, given that I am not at all sure of my own memories and I have an idea how memory works.
Eventually, as Veronica explores her own thoughts and memories a picture comes to her, a real memory. Although the place may not be correct she knows the incident is, and it is only as an older adult that she recognizes what the incident really meant for her brother and her family. The memory shocks her and she continues to search her memories and even to search her mother's house for some verification of what she actually knows.
The death of Liam has a profound effect on Veronica and her family. Her conversations rarely make sense to others. She dwells on the peculiarities of her dysfunctional family. Her mind and her actions wander incessantly. Yet somehow, every strange twist and turn leads to an inevitable finish.
Although the format of the book seems, on the surface, almost chaotic, it makes sense while in it. It is complex yet consistent and utterly real.