four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
Anne Enright
Awards: 
user_rating: 
0

The GatheringVeronica Hegarty, one of 12 children, has distanced herself from her past and her large Irish family by becoming a solidly suburban, middle-class wife and mother of two. Her carefully constructed shield comes crashing down when her favorite brother, Liam, an alcoholic, commits suicide. She begins to feel detached from her life, and, while her long-suffering husband sleeps alone in their bed, Veronica stays up at night, driving and writing. As she explores her memories, she starts to piece together Liam’s past—their shared past—to understand her brother’s dissolute life and untimely death, which she attributes to one fateful childhood summer.
Black Cat/Grove. 272 pages. $14. ISBN: 0802170390

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s a joy to be with a book that combines the exalted and the profane so handily, that crafts compulsive disclosure until it can dart from tenderness to anger, to dry humour, to the anguish that drums through the narrative. Like many good protagonists, Veronica notices things, maybe notices too much: makes pictures helplessly as she stops sleeping with her husband, fails to love her daughters and her mother as she should, resents her family and grieves for her unforgivable brother." Al Kennedy

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The Gathering has moments of swagger or splurge. But its impact is extraordinary, full of its author’s inimitable aplomb." Patricia Craig

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Enright has written a wonderfully elegant and unsparing novel that takes the old Irish subjects of family dysfunction and the vagaries of memory into territory made fresh by an objectivity so precise it seems almost loving in its care. . . . One of Enright’s great strengths is her ability to take the conventions, stage settings and stock characters of Irish fiction and dip them in the acid of a sensibility utterly immune to piety or cant, religious or cultural." Tim Rutten

New York Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In this mystery of past causes, the transformative power of Enright’s language keeps the story’s freight from burdening the reader. Veronica’s reminiscences have an incantatory power that makes them not depressing but enthralling—as evocative and unanswerable as the laments of the woman ‘wailing for her demon-lover’ in ‘Kubla Khan,’ except that Veronica wails for her demon-brother." Liesl Schillinger

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"For some, The Gathering may seem too grim a thing to tackle, while others may find its structure too loose. To which I would say merely this: Read, and keep reading, and see if you find something startling, or heartbreaking, or perfectly true and wonderfully insightful, revealing itself on the next page." Stephen Delaney

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Enright’s purpose is also to add a chapter to the moral history of her country. . . . Everything that happens and does not happen here feels painfully and awkwardly true, even the notes of redemption." Peter Behrens

Toronto Globe and Mail 2.5 of 5 Stars
"I understood the necessary emotional flatness Hegarty demonstrates, but what’s more challenging to resolve in Enright’s work is the clever detachment that pervades it, shoves you away from her characters and keeps you tethered outside the gate. . . . Thus, I found myself simmering lovingly over sentences, wondering if certain descriptions would ever be this funny or well rendered again, but had little interest in learning anything further about Veronica Hegarty." Anakana Schofield

Critical Summary

The Gathering, Irish author Anne Enright’s fourth novel, displays the author’s exceptional skill at exposing dysfunctional family dynamics and the hollow pretense of middle-class life in newly affluent, post-modern Ireland. Her light, elegant prose and rich portrait of the Hegartys, Veronica in particular, won praise from the critics. While recognizing that some readers may find the story lacking in plot, they applauded the depth and intensity of this "slow deconstruction of memory and self" (Los Angeles Times). Bleak and unsentimental, Veronica’s interior dialogues are nevertheless lyrical and clever. Though at times Enright may strain to encompass too much of the Irish experience, critics generally agreed that this dark, evocative novel was a worthy recipient of the 2007 Man Booker Prize.