Ann Enright’s Man Booker prize winner is a grim exploration of dissatisfaction within a large Irish family. The pivotal event is the suicide of one of the sons, Liam, the favorite sibling of the narrator, Veronica. The mother is described as a ghost, and her other siblings are alcoholics, psychotic, her husband hates her, she hates him, and so on. Then she goes back a generation to describe the meeting in 1925 in a hotel lobby of her grandmother, an orphan who was perhaps a prostitute, and the man who upon meeting her, fell in love with her permanently and instantly lost her to her future husband who had a car.
Sexual abuse at the age of 8 is identified as the beginning of Liam’s problems; the possibility of being abused herself is also mentioned. Abuse of her mother’s generation is also hinted at as an explanation for her mother’s vagueness and her uncle’s life in an asylum.
When Liam dies, her own unhappiness is heightened and her grievances, including mundane complaints toward her husband, are aired. It seems her very comfortable middle class life is undermined by the secrets, real or imagined, of her family’s past. She goes into a tailspin and is unable to sleep at night for four months after the funeral. She prowls her house and eventually begins driving around to explore the sites of the abuse her family suffered.
Just as she begins to see light at the end of the tunnel, she recounts Liam’s funeral and you learn what she clearly knew all four months, the happy news that Liam had a son he did not know. Everyone, especially Veronica, was cheered by that turn of events. Why this is such a happy turn of events is unclear to me.
I can’t say I found The Gathering enlightening or moving.