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The Gathering Paperback – September 10, 2007

3.0 out of 5 stars 274 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, November 2007: Pretty early on in The Gathering you realize that in her lingering portrait of the Hegarty clan (and this isn't hyperbole--they are a family of 12), Irish novelist Anne Enright will wrestle with all the giant literary tropes that have come before her. Family, of course, is the big one, but with equal intensity she explores death and dying, the sea and its siren song, sex, shame, secrecy, unreliable memories, madness, "the drink," and--always in the shadows--England. That said, it's not like any other novel about the Irish that I've read. The story of the Hegartys is indeed bleak, and hard, but it surges with tenderness and eloquent thought which, in the end, are the very things that help this family (or at least her narrator Veronica) survive. Through her eyes, and in Enright's skillful imagination, those small turning-point moments of life that we all know in some form or another--a petty fight, a careless word, an event witnessed--come together in an unshakeable vision of how you become the person you are. --Anne Bartholomew

From Publishers Weekly

In the taut latest from Enright (What Are You Like?), middle-aged Veronica Hegarty, the middle child in an Irish-Catholic family of nine, traces the aftermath of a tragedy that has claimed the life of rebellious elder brother Liam. As Veronica travels to London to bring Liam's body back to Dublin, her deep-seated resentment toward her overly passive mother and her dissatisfaction with her husband and children come to the fore. Tempers flare as the family assembles for Liam's wake, and a secret Veronica has concealed since childhood comes to light. Enright skillfully avoids sentimentality as she explores Veronica's past and her complicated relationship with Liam. She also bracingly imagines the life of Veronica's strong-willed grandmother, Ada. A melancholic love and rage bubbles just beneath the surface of this Dublin clan, and Enright explores it unflinchingly. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Black Cat; Later Printing edition (September 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802170390
  • ISBN-13: 978-1615553372
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By hydrophilic on February 23, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Booker prize is a strange beast. The books that make it to the short list are usually excellent, yet somehow the worst of those always gets chosen.

I expected to loveloveLOVE this book. I adore books about multi-generational family dysfunction, and I'm a total sucker for evocative locales. This book covers a large Irish family from the 1920s to the current day. The plot is driven by funeral arrangements for the family's black sheep, who has committed suicide. The writing is lovely. It is almost impossible for me to dislike a book that contains so many fascinating elements. Sadly, however, "The Gathering" is that book.

This is not to say the it's a total loss. What Enright can do, she does well. For instance, she perfectly captures the strange and malleable thing that is childhood memory. I found myself nodding along as the main character, Veronica, describes her grandparent's house and various members of the extended family through eight-year-old eyes. Enright clearly wants to convey the uncertainty of memory and she succeeds. Veronica vividly remembers events that may or may not have occurred, or perhaps involved her siblings rather than herself. Additionally, her prose is beautiful. You'll be struck more than once by a sentence that's horrible, gorgeous, brilliant, and despairing all at once.

At the same time, I agree with all the criticisms levelled here. The book jumps haphazardly from the present to the past, and if that wasn't bad enough, it's often unclear whether it's all a figment of Veronica's imagination. I think Enright wanted to intensify the sense of uncertainty around the stories we tell to make sense of our family history. She uses a heavy hand, and the end result is a confused mess.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are some books which I enjoy a lot as I read them. Later, however, when I put them down I find that I hardly remember what they had to say.

The Gathering is a little bit of the opposite experience. As I read, I was not at all sure what it was that I was supposed to be reading. It is fairly difficult to access, and not terribly forgiving of lapsed attention. Mostly I found myself saying to myself: "Why? Why did this win the Man Booker Prize?" But then somewhere towards the end, Enright pulls a magic trick. The book wraps itself up somehow, and is at once something shining. Something, dare I say it, which would like to fly. But still, I was not really sure that this was enough. It came so late in the book and what came before that moment was so leaden, I was not sure what I wanted to think. I mean, what I wanted to think about the overall experience.

Given time, the experience of reading the book has settled a little bit. I find that instead of growing more distant, I actually feel closer to the novel. I like it more. I have the impulse to buy another book by Enright. I am willing to forgive The Gathering its sharp edges and elbows.

And boy oh boy does this book have sharp elbows. It is a bitter little pill of a novel. Just like its main character, it resists sympathy and identification. Enright uses fantasy, disjointed narrative, unpleasant people doing unpleasant things-- pretty much every device that you can imagine to force the reader back outside the text. It makes for such a strange combination because she writes with such lyrical prose and such a delicate hand that you expect to find the book yielding. The contrast is very interesting, but in the end I am not sure how successful The Gathering really is-- largely for that reason.
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Format: Paperback
I read a number of reviews on this book before writing this, and found something in each one to agree. I think if you pick one review each across the 1-5 stars and average out across all of them, you'll get a fair assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of this book. What I am going to try and do thus is present a balanced review, which pretty much represents my "average feeling" about the book.

Firstly, let me very briefly summarize the plot: the book revolves around the life of one of the nine surviving children of an Irish family, her reminiscences (real and imaginary) of her life and those of her family, and in particular her recently deceased brother. The "dysfunctional family story" which has been much bandied by a number of people is not strictly true, because this is really the woman's story, with the family naturally taking a prominent position given their size and range of "experiences".

The positives first then: Enright really does seem to have a "fresh" style of writing - I got hooked into the book right away, and read the first third at one quick go. Very surprisingly though, the freshness goes stale very quickly, and I found it genuinely tedious to go through the rest of the book. But we were talking of positives here, so let's get back there: the book is littered with some stylistic gems, such as the one quoted by another reviewer here: "All our parents were mad in those days. There was something about just the smell of us growing up that drove them completely insane." Enright, when she chooses to, can create really well defined characters, such as the protagonist, whose nuances - physical, mental, and emotional, are beautifully unveiled through her thoughts and actions.
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