Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Irish Experience

"The Gathering", by Irish author Anne Enright, was our book group’s choice for March. Anne Enright was born in 1962 in Dublin, she now lives in County Wicklow with her husband and children. She studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia and has written one collection of stories, four novels and one work of non-fiction. Ms. Enright was a television producer and director in Dublin when she suffered a nervous breakdown. She left television and began writing full time in 1993.

"The Gathering" won this year’s Man Booker Prize. It is a family saga about memory: who did what to whom and who remembers the facts clearly and who doesn’t. Veronica Hegarty, one of twelve children raised in a small house in Dublin, is mourning the suicide of her favorite brother, Liam. The reader finds herself in Veronica’s consciousness filled with resentment and guilt. In her grief she turns on her husband, taking long drives in the middle of the night leaving behind her big house in the suburbs, her husband and children. Obsessively, Veronica begins to remember her childhood and what she believes happened in her grandmother Ada’s house when she and Liam were children staying there. The sexual abuse of Liam by Ada’s landlord and old friend, Mr. Nugent, plagues Veronica and leads her to believe that the abuse caused Liam to drink, self destruct and finally to drown himself in the sea.

Our book group saw the novel as one of complete ambiguity. We asked; Did Ada know about the abuse? Did she love or dislike Nugent? What about the abuse itself? Did it happen to Veronica as well? (probably not) Did Nugent abuse Ada’s son, Brendan? Is that why he was institutionalized? To Veronica, Nugent possessed a truly evil, twisted nature. And, Was Liam gay? What about those trips to the police station by Liam’s father? Were they an insinuation that Liam was arrested for some gay, illegal activity? It was all a mystery to Veronica and consequently to the reader. The sex abuse scene itself was written from the eyes of an innocent eight year old girl. Did it really happen? (probably)

We all agreed that Anne Enright writes wonderful, lyrical prose. There was not a lot of physical action in this novel, but there was internal action. All of the emotions, grief, anger, guilt, sadness, and frustration take place in Veronica’s consciousness. It has been called a dark, bleak novel but there are moments of levity and wit. One of our group members wanted to know if we liked the book. Some loved it and some were ambivalent. We all agreed that we liked the ending. One critic wrote: “It has one of the best last sentences of any novel I have ever read.” Veronica thinks, as she anticipates returning by airplane to Dublin and her family, “I have been falling into my own life, for months. And I am about to hit it now.”

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