Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize in 2007. It is a powerful book about loss and family. I hadn't read anything by Anne Enright previously but kept hearing good things about her work. Her most recent work, The Forgotten Waltz has also received good reviews.

The Gathering is mostly told in the first person, in the voice of 39 year old Veronica, as she attempts to come to terms with the death of her brother Liam. The title refers to the coming together of the remaining Hegarty family for Liam's wake. Veronica is one of nine surviving siblings.

Some of the themes covered are heavy but very well handled. Enright explores the impact of childhood sexual abuse and poverty at the individual, family and community level. She also explores intergenerational issues in a family, how an earlier generation's struggle with poverty and social restraints, can impact the current generation.  I also enjoyed Enright's exploration of the role of memory in our relationships and identity.

Even though the Hegarty family is extraordinary in many respects, not least for the large family size, I found I could relate to Veronica and some of her struggles. Enright poignantly captures the very essence of family; the mixed feelings that go with dealing with family members as one ages; the piecing together of what certain events mean and the harbouring of past hurts.

As with so many of the modern Irish writers, Enright writes like a dream. There is a sophisticated literary feel to the writing but it is also earthy and real. She evokes the faded atmosphere of the family home, right down to the sounds and smells, beautifully. There is also a real physicality to her descriptions that increases the power of her prose. She recreates the memories of childhood convincingly, complete with strong impressions and ambiguity.

This is perhaps the best book I have read in a long time about the drama and difficulties of being part of a family; the threads that unite and divide, and trying to outrun the past and forge one's own identity. The novel does end hopefully, and from beginning to end is just beautifully done. I highly recommend it.

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