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The Gathering By Anne Enright

the-gathering-by-anne-enrightThe Gathering by British writer Anne Enright is the winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Now in its 39th year, the prize aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

The Man Booker Prize winner receives �50,000 and the prize has the power to transform the fortunes of authors who win this prestigious prize.

Sometimes the book selected for a literary award is genuinely worth reading and sometimes I wonder why anyone thought it was worth the time taken to read it.

This award was announced on October 16, the day before Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty read to an enthusiastic audience at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. Driving back to Toronto the following day we had plenty of time to talk about books. Bernard had just finished this one and highly recommended it - as I do.

Family funeral

This novel is the story of Veronica Hagarty and her family who have gathered for the funeral of their brother Liam. They were children of a large family of twelve; Liam was just over a year older than Veronica.

They were close as children and spent time together, apart from the rest of the family. The year that Veronica was eight and Liam was nine they were sent to the home of their grandmother, Ada, and grandfather, Charlie, while their mother recovered from a miscarriage.

“Ada’s house was quiet...the quiet of a house with no children and the rooms were full of things.”

I remember so clearly the “parlour” in my “city” grandmother’s house. I would sneak into the room, as Veronica does, and gaze about in wonder at the objects I would never dare touch. It was in this "good" room in Ada's house that something happened that winter; something that changed their lives but was never spoken of. In fact Veronica has struggled all of her life, and especially now, in an attempt to understand what she witnessed with her child's eyes. Veronica narrates this novel to tell Liam’s story - to try “to write history ... if it would stop sliding around in my head.”

Liam, only 40 years old, has drowned in the sea after a very troubled life. Both Veronica and Liam ran a little wild as young adults. “There was a path I thought - and Liam had wandered off it” thinks Veronica, who has settled down into marriage with a successful businessman and two beautiful daughters. They live in a grand home and Veronica drives a very nice car, often driving at night, wondering what her life is all about. Liam’s death makes her seriously question who she is at mid-life and who she is going to become.

Halfway through the book, after meandering in memory, Veronica tells the reader “It is time to call an end to romance and just say what happened in Ada’s house, the year I was eight and Liam was barely nine.”

A book that questions love and hate

This is a book that questions love and hate, examines marriage, and family and loyalty, desire, guilt and acceptance. Veronica has carried around a burden of guilt. She struggles to make sense of her childhood. “We know that real events have real effects. In a way that unreal events do not”.

Surrounded by her siblings who have come from around the world for the funeral and the wake, and as she cares for her mother, who often does not know who she is, Veronica re-examines the past.

Anne Enright can write as only the Irish can write, the lilting of the voice in the words on the paper. It is a bit raunchy - but not without reason.

It is a book that will make you think - and you will definitely feel that it was worth the time taken to read it. I think I'll be looking for more by this author. Like many readers, I might never have discovered this book if not for the Man Booker award. Sometimes, they get it right.

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