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The Gathering

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Anne Enright is a dazzling writer of international stature and one of Ireland’s most singular voices. Now she delivers The Gathering, a moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish family and a shot of fresh blood into the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new. The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light. The Gathering is a daring, witty, and insightful family epic, clarified through Anne Enright’s unblinking eye. It is a novel about love and disappointment, about how memories warp and secrets fester, and how fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

261 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 2007

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About the author

Anne Enright

45 books945 followers
Anne Enright was born in Dublin, where she now lives and works. She has published three volumes of stories, one book of nonfiction, and five novels. In 2015, she was named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. Her novel The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize, and The Forgotten Waltz won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,356 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
November 12, 2018
this book was very frustrating. i feel like i should love it, but it's like there is a barrier - a chastity belt between us preventing our love, and as much as i want it, it isn't going to happen for us. there is a quality to her writing that reminded me of What I Loved or Housekeeping, books i am also told i am supposed to love, but just can't feel anything for, like distant relations. she is a less antiseptic writer than hustvedt, though. i respect her prose - there are lines in here of amazing beauty and melancholy that make me say - "yes, there you are - come out where i can see you," but the nothing-new-here feel to the plot means these moments are not enough.

and for some reason, i always thought i liked the booker award-winners more than, say, the pulitzers or other prestigious awards. in my mind, i had decided, "no, the bookers are the "good" awards - i usually like those." this idea, deeply rooted as it was, turns out to be like so many of my firmly-held ideas, and based on zero facts. i checked out the former booker winners and i have only actually read 10 of them, and only really liked 4. there are a lot of authors i like on there, but in a lot of cases, the winning book is one i haven't read. so - i give up my idea of the booker as my gold standard and one more ideal topples.

one odd thing of note about her ("her" being author/narrator)- she is endlessly preoccupied with casually describing the genitals of characters: her own, her husband's, the imagined genitals of her grandparents, etc. and they are usually compared to food - poultry etc. it is jarring, at first, then it becomes an accepted quirk, and by the end you can sort of see a psychological reason for it (for the narrator - enright's choice to grossly describe is still a mystery), but still - enough with the genitals.

having finished it, i shrug and i move on, not really feeling i have read anything that will stick with me, but while i was reading it, i did make little bookmark pages that have examples of a beautiful turn of phrase, or a nice original observation, and i would type them out here, but if they are the reason to read the book,in my opinion, i don't want to ruin the experience for any other future reader because they are like the jewels in the quiet night of her story.

i didn't say she inspired glorious prose from other people

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Guille.
757 reviews1,551 followers
July 17, 2022

Alguien debería hacer algún estudio acerca de los efectos del whisky sobre los habitantes de este pequeño país que es Irlanda. O quizás haya que echarle las culpas a las pintas de Guinness o a la lluvia o a todo ello junto o vete tú a saber qué es lo que pasa en Irlanda para que se den tantos y tan buenos escritores. Anne Enright es una buena escritora y esta es una muy buena novela.

El estilo del libro viene marcado por la personalidad de la narradora, una mujer con una coraza frágil, un volcán engañosamente inactivo. Su lenguaje es seco, muchas veces mordaz, desesperanzado siempre. A aquellos que les guste subrayar frases, aquí se van a pegar una jartá. Las hay de muchas clases.

Hay humor negro:
(Sobre su hija) “Emily tiene algo de gato, y siempre he pensado que los gatos solo saltan a tu regazo para comprobar si estás lo bastante fría para comerte.”
Hay pequeñas joyitas:
“Hablaba un irlandés precioso. La lengua era para él un lugar romántico, y es el lugar donde aún sigo queriéndolo.”

“Podía coger las llaves y volver a «casa», donde podría «hacer el amor» con mi «marido», igual que tantas otras personas. Eso era lo que había hecho durante años. Y hasta que mi hermano murió no parecieron importarme las comillas ni me di cuenta de que estaba viviendo entre ellas.”
Y hay otras tantas con las que, después de pelearte un buen rato, te preguntas si no te tendrías que tomar ese whisky o esa cerveza de malta o ponerte bajo la lluvia a ver si te despejas un poco y pillas todo el sentido de la frase:
“No hay nada tan incierto como la caricia de una anciana, tan cariñoso o tan horrible”

“Lamb Nugent nunca la dejó. Mi abuela fue su acto más imaginativo. Puede que yo no se lo perdone, pero es eso –la forma en que fue fiel a ese acto creativo– lo que mejor define al hombre, para mí.”
La historia en sí está llena de tópicos irlandeses, como el alcoholismo, las familias numerosísimas, la culpa católica, el abuso a menores. Todo se perdona en virtud de la maravillosa forma en la que está contada. Todo el libro es un largo monólogo de Verónica que nos cuenta la historia de su familia, los Hegarty, a raíz de la muerte de uno de sus once hermanos. Como buen monólogo, la historia no es lineal, recuerdos traen otros recuerdos, ideas que se van enlazando, pequeñas historias de sus abuelos, de sus padres, de sus hermanos, se entremezclan con su vida, con el momento en el que celebran el funeral y el entierro de su hermano y los meses posteriores. La culpa es la gran protagonista... y quizás el destino, porque aunque a veces parece que un hecho terrible del pasado concentra todo el peso de la caída y posterior muerte de su hermano (y toda la responsabilidad en ella y el resto de la familia), también pone en el otro platillo de la balanza aquello contra lo que es muy difícil luchar:
“No es que los Hegarty no sepamos lo que queremos, sino que no sabemos cómo quererlo. En nuestro deseo hay algo que se descarrió sin remedio.”
Profile Image for Sammy.
207 reviews872 followers
April 20, 2008
Please excuse me as I make a noise of annoyance, disgust, boredom and all around dissatisfaction... UGHARGHHHHUHHH. Don't even know how to spell that or if it makes any sense. Hey, that makes a nice segue into my review.

Let me start with the one perk I can honestly give this book. Anne Enright has a beautiful grasp of words but she doesn't know how to use them. She also had a wonderful gem of an idea for a story, but she didn't know how to develop it. Combine those two together you get a reader thinking, "I want to like this, but I don't know how." The Gathering could have easily been a beautiful, deep and touching novel, but unfortunately Enright fails at delivering that.

I found the story as a whole much too disconnected and disjointed. I constantly felt like I was being bounced around. By the time I got relatively comfortable in one scene I suddenly found myself in a completely different time and place with unfamiliar characters. It wasn't just the line of the story that was disjointed, but the actual writing itself. Actually, that might not be the best way to describe writing that is mostly run-on sentences and rambling thoughts, that's pretty much the opposite of disjointed, even so, it somehow still managed to feel that way.

The story wasn't even saved by it's characters. There wasn't a single fully developed, or even half developed character throughout the whole book. Even our main character, Veronica, remained two-demensional at best, despite having moments where I felt I should be feeling a connection with her. Rather it felt like I was standing awkwardly by someone I barely knew while they had an emotional breakdown, glancing occasionally over my shoulder wondering if I should leave them alone or dumbly pat them on the back. I think I was expected to be attatched to most of the characters, but I wasn't. I didn't feel sympathy for them, nor did I even like any of them. It made the book even more boring and uncomfortable.

It's a great disappointment to read a book you think has so much potential to only have it fall flat. If Enright has written any poetry I might be interested in reading that, I have an inkling she would make a fairly good poet, but I'm going to be staying away from any other novels she's written. Especially if they're anything like this.
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,568 followers
February 24, 2016
These words are imbued with a despair so raw that not even once during the time I was reading this did I feel an ounce of regret envisaging the time the novel drew to its inevitable conclusion. In fact I was eager for it to be over, for the narrator to stop pouring forth her endless stream of inchoate conjectures and unsavoury insinuations. Prior to this, I have slogged my way through Vollmann's 800-page behemoth (The Royal Family) which, despite its uncompromising sincerity and profound sympathy for the dispossessed of the earth, features depravities of the highest order and I continue to do battle with Leslie Marmon Silko's righteously fiery tirade in Almanac of the Dead which takes pleasure in referencing every known and unknown stomach-churning theme under the sun simply to make the reader squirm in their seat. But somehow Anne Enright's seemingly innocuous concoction of blood bonds and family drama contains more unpleasantness than the two works combined.
I do not know the truth, or I do not know how to tell the truth. All I have are stories, night thoughts, the sudden convictions that uncertainty spawns. All I have are ravings, more like.

Every statement or harmless speculation opening a window into the narrator's world provides a disconcerting view of an emotionally repressed, traumatized individual. One who is outwardly an ordinary woman grappling with the challenges of a moderately satisfactory marriage at the sunset of her youth. A mother of two tiptoe-ing around her own life like a trespasser. But it's only her relationship with her recently deceased brother Liam which seems to give her life substance, endow it with meaning and purpose, rooting her to a particular point in time and memory from which she cannot detach herself despite best efforts. In a way she seems like a listless, disembodied spirit propelled only by the currents of happenstance, mundane daily occurrences, and passive-aggressive conversations with her siblings and ambiguous husband, always ever grazing the surface of the truth – the truth of a summer spent in her grandmother's place long ago with her brother Liam - until the time she finally shuns hesitation and divulges that closely guarded, wholly repugnant secret. A secret so complex and incomprehensible (even to its keeper) that it seems to have hijacked her life in retrospect and delineated the downward trajectory of decline and eventual self-destruction that Liam was doomed to follow.
They are a bundle of nerves, frayed at the ends. They are wearing each other away; both of them amazed by the thinness of skin that happens just there; how close they can be, blood to blood, so that the ticking, afterwards, of one inside the other, might be a joke, or a pulse-the beating in your veins of someone else's heart.

In a sense, the entire novel reads like the narrator's rambling, extended letter of apology to a brother she failed to rescue in time, both in the distant and recent past. It is piercing and earnest. Besides Anne Enright never indulges in the folly of distilling the 'issue' into easy dichotomies of 'moral' and 'immoral' but uses words – clever, cutting, precise words – to make sense of the incident which serves as the seam of the narrative. But unfortunately enough this is a particularly breed of fiction which impairs my ability to feel empathy for any of its characters, even though I'm always acutely aware of its power. There is just too much hurt, too much toxic resentment lurking between the arrays of words that seem to percolate into a reader's blood like insidious poison. Even passages sketching a commonplace scene of domestic bliss are pregnant with implications that my mind refused to parse fully out of some hazily-defined fear. The sex scenes made my skin crawl. Sometimes I felt I was going to drown in my own revulsion for this book.
People, she used to think, do not change, they are merely revealed.

And yet I cannot deny the truth of Enright's masterful unravelling of this yarn which allows the reader to partake in the shared experience of a 'free fall' that seems to have been Veronica Hegarty's life for thirty-nine years. In the end, I am unable to love but I can grudgingly admire.
14 reviews1 follower
June 24, 2008
This book actually angered me, and I think this paragraph sums up why:

"I know, as I write these... that they require me to deal in facts. It is time to call an end to romance and just say what happened in Ada's house, the year that I was eight and Liam was barely nine."

That passage occurs about halfway through the book. The preceding pages are an endless series of shapeless ponderings on what may or may not have happened. The narrator leaps from one era to the next, with the basic point being "Something terrible happened in my grandmother's house when I was a child, but I can't tell you about that yet. Here's how I think my grandmother may have met my grandfather, but I wasn't there so I don't know. Also, I can't be sure of the things that happened even when I was there. Isn't memory funny? Let me give an alternative scenario that may or may not have happened. But who knows, that could be wrong too! Memory is so funny!"

The book sort of saves itself in the second half when it starts to get to the point, but by then I just didn't care anymore. The author is obviously incredibly skilled. She can get by on the beauty of her writing alone, but this kind of book only frustrates me because of its wasted potential. It doesn't matter how beautifully you write something if you don't make me care about what you are writing.

I realized lately that I hadn't read a new author in quite a while, and this represented a challenge to myself to read something I normally wouldn't. This book taught me to trust my instincts.

Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,153 reviews1,692 followers
January 2, 2023

No, il passato non è un posto allegro, anche perché il passato è una terra straniera.
Ma il presente di Veronica Hegarty è perfino meno allegro del passato: perché deve andare da Dublino a Brighton, dall’Irlanda all’Inghilterra a recuperare il corpo del fratello Liam, morto suicida, riportarlo a casa, organizzare il funerale e seppellirlo.

E Liam è il fratello prediletto, di solo undici mesi più grande di lei.
Fratello prediletto in quella squadra di calcio che è la sua famiglia: dodici tra fratelli e sorelle, figlio più o figlio meno. Perfino una coppia di gemelli. E un cospicuo numero di aborti (sette).
Anche per la cattolicissima Irlanda si tratta di una famiglia sovradimensionata.

Foto di Matt Harris.

Il presente di Veronica Hegarty, io-narrante di questo romanzo vincitore del Booker Prize, è poco allegro perché, oltre a al fratello da seppellire, c’è il suo matrimonio che non va bene: lei e Tom stanno insieme da dieci anni, hanno due bambine, dicono di amarsi, ma non vanno d’accordo e lei medita la separazione.
I suoi pensieri volano: oggi, domani, molto spesso tornano indietro, alle cose successe, che crede di ricordare e conoscere: sogni a occhi aperti e ricordi mutanti, li definisce.
Enright dilata il tempo del racconto, lo distilla, raggiungendo momenti di purezza. Succede quando immagina un momento del passato cui non ha assistito, non ha potuto farlo, perché non c’era, perché ancora non esisteva. Immagina, e forse intuisce.

Nessuna meraviglia che a un certo punto la narrazione coinvolga un abuso su minore, col minore che è un bambino di nove anni e l’adulto molestatore un amico di famiglia eternamente innamorato della padrona di casa, di cui il bimbo vittima è il nipote. Nessuna meraviglia perché Enright mi ha preparato, con lentezza e bravura ha man mano sollevato il velo che nascondeva il brutto segreto. Ma anche nessuna meraviglia perché siamo all’interno di una famiglia della cattolica Irlanda e alla violenza sui minori letteratura e cinema irlandesi ci hanno abituati.
La qualità di scrittura mi pare non si discuta (peraltro confermata leggendo L’attrice), Enright scrive più che bene: purtroppo il tutto si risolve in quasi trecento pagine di peccati di famiglia e ferite di famiglia, tema che è davvero abusato, minestra fin troppe volte riscaldata.

Foto di Matt Harris.

Foto di Matt Harris.

Foto di Matt Harris.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 18 books1,279 followers
April 29, 2008
(My full review of this book is larger than Goodreads' word-count limit. Find the entire essay at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

As a book critic, I of course try to steer clear of any information I can about a book I'm about to review, until I'm done with the book myself and have already made up my mind about what I thought; so imagine my surprise, then, when finally checking out what others had to say about today's book in question, Anne Enright's The Gathering, and seeing so many people call it an unrelentingly dour and grim tale. Because I hadn't thought of it that way at all when actually reading it, but rather as witty, lively, and with a precise control over the English language; it wasn't until afterwards that I stopped and realized, as the Guardian UK most famously put it, that the book actually concerns an "alcoholic suicide, blank-eyed paedophile, violent father, vacant mother and irritatingly smug priest, not to mention its scenes of bad sex, self-harm, a funless wake and 5am grief-stricken howling." Oh yeah, that's right, I thought after seeing so many people mention it; and how remarkable that it never even occurred to me at the time, how remarkable that the book should be that good. No wonder it went on to win what many consider the most prestigious literary award on the planet last year. No wonder.

Because yes, ladies and gentlemen, the day is finally here; after nine months of following the contest, of tracking down and reviewing as many of the nominees as I could, the day has finally arrived to review the winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, given out each year to what a jury of peers believes is the best novel of the last twelve months to be written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or Ireland. And indeed, Enright is in fact Irish, only the fifth Irish author in the history of the Booker to win the prize; and as you can tell from what's already been mentioned, it doesn't get much more stereotypically Irish on the surface than with The Gathering's plotline, fascinated as it is with drunken funerals, brawling families, weepy suicidal artists, and deceptively sexy pale middle-aged Gaelic women having bizarre Alice-Sebold style breakdowns. Erin go Bragh, motherf-cker!

The story of one of those huge Irish Catholic families (twelve siblings altogether, nine of whom are still alive at the time of our tale), The Gathering narratively centers around 38-year-old Veronica, somewhere in the middle of the sibling chain, a frazzled but not altogether unhappy wife and mother who nonetheless has been recently having some marital problems and drinking more than she's happy with. The reason for the eponymous gathering, then, is the drowning suicide of the black sheep of the family, the manipulative and charming loser Liam, who for years has been living right on the edge of civilized society (and his family's patience) until finally delving underneath for good while spending some time in Brighton (on the southern coast of England, a day trip from Dublin where the rest of the story takes place). Because of various complicated factors, it is Veronica who must travel to Brighton in order to identify and claim Liam's body; the book basically follows her through that journey and on through the funeral itself, peeking in her head and watching her attitudes about all the things going on, watching her fumble through her hazy memories and try to determine if there might be one single childhood event that can somehow explain how Liam eventually came to be.

In fact, I find it a fortuitous coincidence that I just happened to read The Gathering in the same exact week I read Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway for the first time as well; because when all is said and done, both authors are basically attempting the same thing, to let us literally crawl inside their main protagonists' heads and follow along with their thoughts stream-of-consciousness style. In this, then, Enright's book helps clarify a point I wanted to make in my original Dalloway essay, but wasn't sure how to actually verbalize until now; that although Woolf's original 1925 literary experiment should definitely still be admired for what it tries to accomplish, it's also true that we as a global culture have now had 80 years to expand and improve on those early rough Modernist experiments, with results these days that are just so much better than any of those trailblazers could've ever achieved back then. Because really, if you want to describe Enright's personal writing style, and explain a little about why people go so nuts for her work, just think of stream-of-consciousness done exactly and perfectly right -- no cruddy head-scratching abstraction, no pretentious "artsy for artsy's sake" run-on sentences, no even calling undue attention to itself, but rather a confident and solid style that seems to somehow slip right up into our hero's brain without either her or us noticing.

Because that's the thing -- it's a fascinating story, really fascinating, but the way it's told to us is by Veronica simply remembering little bits and pieces of it here and there, by her slowly revealing her opinion and attitudes about certain relatives and events in a piecemeal fashion. The Gathering is a story as we more often hear stories in real life, not as a traditional sit-down A-to-B-to-C uninterrupted tale, but rather as a loose collection of scraps and trails, with the narrator themselves sometimes remembering situations wrongly, sometimes deliberately lying to us. That's what makes the whole childhood aspect of this plot so intriguing, after all, is because Veronica herself admits that her memories of it all are so spotty, that sometimes she thinks she might be filling in the blanks in a certain false way deliberately, because in her heart that's what she really wants the situation to have been. Was Liam sexually abused as a kid? Was she as well, and now has only repressed memories of it all? Or does she want an easy excuse for herself as to why Liam ended up the way he did as an adult, and a lazy justification for her growing coldness to her husband? Was her brother simply a hustler, when all is said and done? Could she and the other siblings have done more, or was he simply doomed to have the kind of romantically tragic life that he did?

Enright takes on all these questions in The Gathering, and a whole lot more; and like I said, by telling the entire story through the filter of this very human, very flawed creature at its center, it makes us as the reader as confused about the objective "truth" as Veronica is herself. And that ultimately is maybe Enright's biggest lesson here -- that no matter what the trauma, no matter what dark things may or may not have occurred in our lives that we may or may not remember, it is how we perceive those things and react to them that is ultimately the only important thing. If Veronica chooses to be a victim, then that's what she's going to be, regardless of whether or not she actually was the victim of something in her past; if she chooses not to be, she suddenly isn't, even if she actually was abused as a kid and by all rights should be a victim. In a way it's actually the opposite of what we think of when we think of traditional Irish stories, because Enright is arguing that all of us are ultimately in charge of our own fates; it's for such reasons, like I said, that I ended up not really thinking of this novel as a typical gloomy Irish story when actually reading it, despite it sharing so many surface-level qualities.

And then of course no discussion of The Gathering is complete without a mention of Enright's mastery over the English language, a detail that both assured its nomination in the first place and that this year guaranteed its win over all those other fey little pointless nominees. I don't like quoting from books in my reviews, in that I feel quotes without context rarely ever convey the full power of why you wanted to quote them in the first place; that said, here is a particularly beautiful passage from the book that struck me quite powerfully, a paragraph that not only nicely explains what is always the most annoying thing about Liam-black-sheep types, but also is indicative of what concerning Enright's writing style I love so much...

"The problem with Liam was never something big. The problem with Liam was always a hundred small things. He had cigarettes but no matches, did I have matches? Yes, but the match breaks, the match doesn't strike, he can't light these cheap Albanian trash matches. Do I have a lighter? F-ck, he has split the matches. Why don't I have a lighter? He goes to find a lighter, rattling all the drawers in the kitchen. He walks out, leaving the back door open. He comes in the front door twenty minutes later with a lighter he found on the street -- lying just outside the house actually -- except that it is wet. He lights the oven from the pilot and lights his cigarette from the oven and burns his hand and after he has put his hand under the tap for a while he fusses in the cupboard for a baking tin and he puts the lighter -- a cheap, plastic lighter -- he actually puts it in the oven, and when I scream at him he shouts right back at me and there is a tussle at the oven door. After which, there is an hour of sulking because I do not trust him to dry a lighter in the oven without burning the house down. And after the sulk comes The Discussion."

Anyone who's...
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,478 followers
March 13, 2022
Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Tonight's contest from the palatial surroundings of Monkstown Boxing Club here in Dun Laoghaire is to decide who is to represent the Republic of Ireland in the 2012 London Olympics Most Miserable Contemporary Novelist event.

(Scattered applause from the twenty or so people in the audience)

In the blue corner, we have Anne Enright

(Anne gets up tiredly from her chair in the corner and raises her hands on which giant gloves have been tied - she waves them vaguely at the small audience, most of whom are texting or playing pocket chess with each other)

Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, Anne is a local favourite whose first novel, The Wig My Father Wore, explored themes such as love, motherhood, Roman Catholicism, and sex in a downbeat manner, which she followed up with What Are You Like? which examined tensions and ironies between family members, but recently she won the renowned munificent bedazzling Booker Priiiiiize for The Gathering, which is much more miserable than both of these put together and then some, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you thank you.

In the RED corner, we have Frank McCourt, world famous author of Angela's Ashes, which milked sentimental cliches of poverty-stricken Irish childhoods until there was not a dry eye in the house, he needs no further introduction from me, he... what?

(Muffled voices, muffled cursing)

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but there has been an administrative mistake made, it seems that Frank McCourt passed away in 2009 after a long and successful career. So, er... it is my privilege to declare that Ireland's Most Miserable Contemporary Novelist is............ Anne Enright. (He tries to get Anne to come to the centre of the right for a victory salute but she's already climbing out of the ring and leaving.)

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. moving on, our next contest is a 5 round flyweight bout between two local lads (zzzt, click).
Profile Image for Lisa.
107 reviews12 followers
May 28, 2008
When I see that some people have given this book five stars, I start to question my own sanity. For me, the book had wonderful potential when I took it off the shelf and the Booker Award sticker only reinforced my impression that this would be a great read: WRONG. Wonderful words strung together does not a good story make. The narrator is completely two-dimensional as written and I was unable to connect with her or her perspective in any way. Yes, I understand the woman's "beloved" brother fell apart and committed suicide, but still her ennui and depression rang false, as did her love/hate feelings for her overly-large, Irish family. I understand that the book is about grief, but I never knew where that all-encompassing grief came from because it was never developed in the novel. As a sister, I assume she was close to her brother and I'm told that by the author, but I really only have the descriptions of her grief to go by because I didn't get any sense of their close relationship from reading the story.

I was also turned off by the frequent and BASE descriptions of the bodily variety. No one over the age of twelve likes a story, be it comedy or tragedy, entirely made up of d**k jokes. I found it juvenile and off-putting. The sad thing is once the final secret of the origin of her brother's (and her?) troubles was revealed I just didn't care anymore. The one thing I appreciated about the book is that it put to bed my worry that I wouldn't find a book that I DIDN'T like and maybe my tastes were not as discerning as a true book lover's might be. I thank the author for that revelation, at least.

Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
April 10, 2017
An intelligent, insightful and thought provoking novel about an Irish family experiencing the loss of a brother and son.

Anne Enright’s 2007 novel that garnered the Man Booker Prize for that year is an enjoyable but sometimes difficult journey in the life of Veronica who has recently lost her brother. Told from the days immediately following his tragic death as well as remembrances from their life together, Enright tells Liam’s story from the perspective of Veronica, his younger sister by about 11 months, they being younger siblings of a populous Irish Catholic family.

Veronica and Liam were born in the early sixties, so much of the past that Veronica recalls is from this problematic time. Enright also goes far back in the family history to Veronica’s grandmother and her romances and the time when the seeds of Liam’s troubles may have been first sown.

Most provocative for me was Enright’s spot on characterization. This is a woman who knows how women think and who masterfully conveys this knowledge into rich, artful prose. The story she describes is complex with discerning awareness of sexuality and the dynamics of a large family.

Extraordinarily well written and engaging, Enright’s is a poetic voice describing a troubled time with courage, sensitivity and vitality.

Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,624 followers
September 22, 2019
I have no idea how to feel about this book, let alone rate it.

For the first half, I was in love with it. I was in love with the writing, which is exceptional, inviting, personal, painful, and *sparkling*. I was squinting with as much derision as confusion, like Clint Eastwood in all of his spaghetti westerns, at all the low ratings.

The book explores grief and the love-hate complications of a big Irish family, who get together for the funeral of Liam, a beloved brother who took his own life. Oh, and it's also about the complications of memory, a theme that is starting to feel worn out to me. I've read too many books that bemoan the inaccuracy of memory, the betrayal of recollection, the haziness of the past. And this one does that A LOT. In fact, it does that for almost the entire book.

See, the main character spends much time imagining how her grandparents got together (down to the nitty gritty of their couplings), over and over and over. Imagining the print of her grandmother's dress, imagining the erection in an onlooker's pants, and then, and then, and then. After each of these imaginings, she doubts the scene she just painted and it evaporates into nothingness, and all that is left is a broken, half-drunk, middle aged woman on her way to her brother's funeral.

Fortunately, it's a pleasure to read these imaginings, because they are so fucking gorgeous. Because you feel like it's your best friend telling you about an intimate dream while she's high on opiates. But the dream goes on so long, you're almost forced to pat your friend's hand, and say "just tell me who molested who, sweetheart, and I'll be on my way."

Because it's also about sexual abuse, and its devastating, lifelong damages, its lethal consequences.

By the time the author reveals a few pages of "reality" you may find yourself annoyed at all the musings of what might have happened when all along the narrator knew damn well what actually happened.

Or does she? The "reality" gets snatched back pretty quick, and you close the book (after a brilliant final paragraph) wondering if you know anything about that family, after all. It comes off as contrived and self indulgent, even if it pulled me in with its stunning artistry.

So this is an example of how a marvellous writer can get away with pretty much anything, solely based on her mad skills as a wordsmith. She could have stuck a few grocery lists in here and she'd still have won the Man Booker. But I predict this ethereal flight won't stick in my memory long. It will join the forgetful haze that she wrote so much about. And that seems fitting.
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
February 17, 2018
"Because a mother's love is God's greatest joke."

This sentence would make perfect sense to me if we turned it around:

"Because a God's love is mother's greatest joke."

Religion, like family wounds and family love, is something one doesn't shake off easily, and that keeps haunting grown-up people long after they think they have left their origins behind. Even what you forget shapes what you are. And that is all I remember of this novel, which may have left more impact on me than I am aware of. But that is something I am unable to see, of course, having forgotten it.

So, like most Bookers and Pulitzers, it will be a guest of honour on my "forgettable" shelf. It is good to keep track of what we forget, lest we forget. My forgettables have a Gathering place - a home, and I am pleased to revisit it from time to time, like old family members and empty churches.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,136 reviews8,149 followers
April 15, 2017
This novel is definitely not for everyone—probably why it has such a low rating here. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Enright examines grief, guilt, and family trauma so universally in this story, though she uses the lens of one woman, Veronica, to do so. The writing is taut but immersive, and the story unfolds slowly and builds itself back up by the end to delivering a satisfying conclusion that will keep you thinking. I found it to be a dark but not unforgiving story. And though she tackles some heavy material, the story has a redemption and hopefulness that alleviates some of the burden of the past her characters must face. Not surprised this one won the Booker; it's quintessentially literary, and I ate it up.
Profile Image for Yulia.
339 reviews316 followers
May 9, 2008
Another Booker Prize winner that is so besotted with its ambiguity and ephemeral nature that it is entirely forgettable and endlessly frustrating. Please, no more showing off how one can see without seeing, live without living, or know without knowing. Tell a story! Don't give me a magic show.
Profile Image for Fiona Brichaut.
Author 2 books11 followers
September 6, 2021
This is the best novel about grief and bereavement that I have read.

Enright captures the peculiar relationship of close siblings perfectly. It is not about love - you don't "love" a close sibling just as you don't "love" your arm. They are a part of you. When they die, you are broken. It is a hard, bitter, angry book because the grief you feel when a close sibling dies is a hard, bitter anger. An anger that is as close to madness as makes no difference. Grief colours everything, and makes everything - the past, the present, present loved-ones - unknowable and unreachable, for a time.

Veronica tells the story of her grandmother, acknowledging that the story she tells is imagined, unreal. I see this as a metaphor for the veil of unreality that bereavement places between the bereaved and external reality. Because you can't tear down the veil, you live in a capsule in a state akin to madness, unable to reach out to those who you love[d]. Unable to connect with their attempts to love you and bring you back. And resenting their efforts to do so.

This novel is not "about" the revelation of what happened to her brother. What may or may not have actually happened is ultimately not important. Rather, it is a novel that describes the symptoms of Veronica's grief. One of these symptoms is her attempt to understand the past and to "see" (reveal) what happened to her brother. (Veronica's disconnection from her husband and children is another symptom. Her bitterness towards her surviving family is another.)

Veronica attempts to make sense of her grandmother's history is symptomatic of how the bereaved - lost in their capsule of unreality - struggle to make sense of their experience. That struggle can lead us to misinterpret both what we see and the meaning of what we do. We do irrational things but think they are significant and rational choices. We misunderstand events in the past and present, yet think we are being clear-sighted and insightful. Or we remember things in the past that were true then, and think that they are the key to the present. We grasp at straws in our attempts to find something tangible to hold on to. Meanwhile our sense of the reality going on around us seems heightened and intense, yet we at the same time disconnect from it.

Above all, we get very, very lost in the whole experience. Lost, desperate, confused, angry and alone. And so very sad.

We, we we. Clearly I mean me. This was my experience of bereavement and I had never read it as I experienced it, until I read The Gathering. No other author past or present has so accurately represented what I lived through. Because it captures the state of grief so succinctly, with such subtlety, I consider Enright's book to be a work of genius.

And by the way, her writing is at times breath-taking.

Like this review? You can find all my reviews on my book review site: BelEdit Book Reviews
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,690 followers
February 12, 2016
“I do not think we remember our family in any real sense. We live in them instead”
― Anne Enright, The Gathering


I grabbed a couple of my still unread, Irish writers to read while traveling back and forth, to and fro from Ireland for pleasure. Ha. Pleasure. The Irish know how to fuck, fight and die. Oh, and write.

Both novels centered around drownings, death, and memory. Both were Man Booker Prize winners (born two years apart). Both were very different looks back. Banville's The Sea was more poetic, more soothing; a search for the correct word, the proper memory. 'The Gathering' was angrier. It was a picked scab, a hot wound, a shout into a dark wet cave; tea without sugar or cream, aged whiskey without the water. Banville's novel was almost elegiac and poetic in its mourning. Enright's was a primal, woman's scream. It was less of a memory than an imagined history, a search for meaning in loss, a desperate search for who and why in family.

'The Gathering' was very good, just not great. I'm almost apologetic about making Enright's novel seem an Irish twin to Banville's. It is a bit unfair. She deserves to have her book examined alone. But the themes, the Irishness, the Man Bookered. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore Man Booker hath joined together, let not man put asunder. I have hung the seabird of the second read, second published, around her book. Oh well, life moves forward and so do reviews and cranky critics.
Profile Image for Alice.
135 reviews24 followers
March 15, 2008
I bought this book because I once again fell for Borders' Buy-1-Get-1-50%-Off deal. I needed a 2nd book, and this one won the Man Booker Prize in 2007. Hell, I thought, it can't be that bad.

Well, it wasn't terrible, but once again, I was deathly bored. More and more, I find myself very annoyed at authors who use the carrot-on-a-stick opening shtick (e.g. "OMG, you guys! Something HORRIBLE happened at my grandmother's house in 1968!! Now you've got to read this to find out what it was!!!! LOL!!!")

I should have known better than to fall for that amateur ploy.

I liked that the narrator was selfish and unreliable, and terribly distant from her loved ones in her grief. But the prose and the wandering, unstructured storytelling were just unbearable. As a short 25-page think piece on the nature of grief, maybe. As a 200+ page novel, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzz. I finished it quickly just so I didn't have to put up with reading it anymore.

What was most problematic was that the relationship between Veronica and Liam was never developed much beyond a shared cigarette on a mattress. Nor between Veronica and any of her siblings, really. All the characterization was done haphazardly, randomly, in tiny insignificant pieces such that I really didn't care who died, or who did what to whom, and all this damn prose pontificating on the nature of death and grief just got boring.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,769 followers
May 30, 2015
The Gathering bears witness to a modern Ireland—which at the time of its publication in 2007 was the shiny, bright, roaring Celtic Tiger, an economic miracle—that cannot escape its past. It is told in a looping, troubling first-person by Veronica Hegarty, who lives an aimless existence in a detached five-bedroom home in the Dublin suburbs with her two lovely daughters and financier husband Tom. Veronica and Tom, who “moves money around, electronically. Every time he does this, a tiny bit sticks to him. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Quite a lot of it, in the long run”, are the new Ireland: privileged, polished, distant, secluded.

But Veronica has come to share something of the past, a dark and dirty secret that her brother Liam’s suicide has only now brought to the light of her memory.
I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me – this thing that may not have taken place. I don’t even know what name to put on it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones.
From this ominous beginning, Veronica meanders back to the time of her grandmother, constructing a narrative that is part family history, part “Dear Diary”—a public confessional in which you can imagine Veronica tearing at the pages with the sharp tip of her pen. Enright presents us with an articulate, reflective narrator, but one of the book’s most brilliant aspects is the instability of Veronica’s testimony – highlighting the unreliability of memory.

Veronica’s clan, the Hegarty’s, is symbolic of the old Ireland Veronica is trying to redeem. She is one of twelve siblings, the daughter of a woman who has virtually lost her mind to the physical and emotional ravages of childbearing and rearing.
My mother had twelve children and— as she told me one hard day–seven miscarriages. The holes in her head are not her fault. Even so, I have never forgiven her any of it. I just can’t.
This tells us so much about the soul of the woman who leads us into her family’s past, the volumes of sorrow and anger and shame that swell in her heart like pages of a book left out in the rain. Perhaps it is her mother’s carelessness, or reverence to a religion which treated women like brood sows that Veronica cannot forgive; but no, as she tells us, “I do not forgive her the sex. The stupidity of so much humping. Open and blind. Consequences, Mammy. Consequences.

The consequences of which Veronica writes were borne not only by her mother but by all her siblings. Some of the Hegarty twelve passed on before Liam: Margaret, recently, of cancer; Stevie, as an angelic little boy; and the nine who remain are scattered, as if seeking roots far from the mother tree. The eponymous ‘Gathering’ is Liam’s wake and funeral, bringing them all back home again. The theme of family is at the broken heart of this novel—how our families shape and betray us—the facts of our emotional inheritances that we can never escape. But the family of Enright’s creation is so wholly Irish, without the superficial sentimentality that we would perhaps rather see, absent of the soft-focus of times past. Enright’s Irish family is flawed and brutal:
There is always a drunk. There is always someone who has been interfered with, as a child. There is always a colossal success, with several houses in various countries to which no one is ever invited. There is a mysterious sister. These are just trends, of course, and, like trends, they shift. Because our families contain everything and, late at night, everything makes sense. We pity our mothers, what they had to put up with in bed or in the kitchen, and we hate them or we worship them, but we always cry for them.

For some readers, The Gathering may have a frustrating lack of action; it is a novel of character and feelings, of reflection and observation. For me, it roared with life. Enright’s prose is sometimes alluring and gentle, sometimes a slap in the face, but it is always original, precise, the fine point of a calligraphy pen that seduces the brain.

Like Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment before her and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s recent Hausfrau, Anne Enright’s The Gathering gives voice to a woman’s anger and shows the inner workings of a mind set loose by tragedy and obsession. It is an unflinching look at sex as a weapon to be wielded and feared. A measure of redemption is offered, for even though Liam’s life was interrupted so unfairly and Veronica must live on in her uncertain world, there is hope in a new life: Liam’s son.

A brilliant novel of Ireland, of family, of memory.

Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,753 followers
September 1, 2013
Okay, this is what I'd label a "Toni Morrison situation." Meaning, this is a highly literary, stream-of-consciousness, well-written novel, filled with characters I don't like and can't relate to, with running themes of incest, molestation, rape, etc.

It's ironic, actually, that I cracked open this 2007 Booker Prize winner right as I've declared "no more Toni Morrison!"

I always feel a little guilty, turning my back on well-written works, but, truly, after page 35, I just couldn't continue. Frankly, I feel sick from reading that one page, and I could see, in terms of plot, that it was just the beginning of a long nightmare of sexual abuse.

But, I'd like to leave this review on 2 positive notes. The first, this is an Irish novel, and, though I didn't connect to this story, it reminded me that I still haven't read Angela's Ashes after all of these years. The second, I found this lovely paragraph on page 15:

"There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick."
Profile Image for Philip.
Author 8 books126 followers
September 19, 2008
Anne Enright’s The Gathering deserves every ounce of praise it has received, and perhaps a bit more. It’s a family history of the Hegartys, told by Veronica after the death of her brother, Liam. So, and therefore, it is a wake, a stream of consciousness response to bereavement. There are more than shades of Molly Bloom here, as Veronica recounts intimate details of her own and her relatives’ ultimately inconsequential lives. And despite its obvious – and necessary – preoccupation with death and mourning, it is eventually an optimistic work, as optimistic as it can be when we are all revealed as rather inconsequential, temporal additions to the grand scheme of things, a grand scheme which, itself, is neither grand nor, indeed, a scheme. In such a void, we need blame to compensate grief. And after that is duly apportioned, at least we can just get on with it.

What The gathering is not, by the way, is the kind of book that would appeal to anyone wanting instant gratification, a murder on every page, celebrity, wealth, empty melodrama, character that can be worn, or even axe-grinding. It is not snobbish to say that The Gathering runs kilometres above such pulp. That it deals with the lives of ordinary people in a less than successful family is stated at the outset by the author. Of the Hegarty family experience, Veronica writes, “the great thing about being dragged up is that there is no-one to blame. We are entirely free range. We are human beings in the raw. Some survive it better than others, that’s all.” Now this is fascinating, because a little later she asserts that when individual Hegartys feel aggrieved with their lot, there is always someone to blame, “because with the Hegartys a declaration of unhappiness is always a declaration of blame.” So within the family, blame is impossible to apportion, but always applied. Given my own assertion that we often need blame to compensate grief, this leads us to an understanding of Veronica’s diatribe, her frustration at being unable to find someone to blame, but needing to do so in order to cope with the loss. The book, then, is her personal catharsis.

The beauty of The Gathering is its ability to remind us, fairly constantly, of the dysfunctional nature of the Hegarty family, whilst at the same time recording that most of those involved, in one way or other, find some kind of fulfilment in their lives. Liam, the brother who committed suicide by jumping off Brighton pier, was undoubtedly one of the casualties. And eventually the whole family shares his tragedy and, at the very end, ride through and past it.

One aspect of the Hegartys is particularly enigmatic, however, and that is their relation to religion. There’s a priest, now an ex-priest, if that is possible, in the family and, at least nominally, they are Catholics. But the religiosity in Veronica’s narrative is less than convincing and hints at the grudging, though perhaps she cannot admit this, even to herself. If she were still practising, she would be more deferential. If she had rejected her faith, she would be more cynical. And if she were a sceptic, her attacks would be more vehement. The next time I read The Gathering, I will be careful to note references to religion, since it remains an enigmatic aspect of Veronica’s character.

As Veronica’s narration progresses, it feels like she is getting things off her chest, a prosaic enough reaction to bereavement. By the end, we are confident that she has achieved her goal and that she will approach at least the next few days of her life with renewed vigour. Until, perhaps, she is plunged again into the miry uniqueness of who she is, its unacceptability, and its inevitability. For that is who we are. Choice is not ours.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
779 reviews
February 17, 2018
This is original writing. I particularly admired the way Enright circled her subject, teasing out the material until the moment was right for revelation; it takes a fierce discipline to do that well. I also liked the way she handled the first person narrative. Veronica's voice rings so true. Enright has the knack of going beyond the reader's willing suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief doesn't even come into it. All human life is in her fiction. In fact, it's not fiction at all...
Profile Image for Dan.
1,105 reviews52 followers
October 6, 2019
The Gathering by Anne Enright

Winner of the 2007 Booker Prize.

Veronica, our protagonist, is responsible for the funeral arrangements for her troubled brother, Liam, who has committed suicide. We find this out ten pages into the novel. The police interviews, identification of the body, the wake and then the funeral is the larger event that the title of the book refers to. The surviving siblings of this very large Irish Catholic family are all adults now. Dad has passed away and mom is suffering from dementia. Veronica has a lot on her plate with her own family, a husband who has been unfaithful but is otherwise functional, and siblings that for the most part don’t have their act together. As a consequence Veronica has a lot of conflicting emotions to deal with in the midst of dealing with this loss. But it’s the vague and distant past that haunts her.

***** Spoiler *****

Veronica spends much of the novel piecing together the disturbing and traumatic sexual events of the past, most real and some possibly imagined, at the hands of a trusted family member. She was eight and Liam was nine. By the end of the story she has puzzled it out, although in her gut she has known it for thirty years, and determines that the awful events from this time in their childhood are what changed the trajectory of Liam’s life.

*****End of Spoiler*****

In my opinion the prose in this novel is quite beautiful. Maybe it is my Irish heritage but Enright’s style immediately struck a chord with me. It is also true that some scenes are understandably uncomfortable and the author’s writing style in these scenes is admittedly quite blunt.

5 stars. An impressive novel of reflection that broaches a serious topic, child sexual abuse. The fog surrounding the situations also means that many crucial elements of the past are never known with certainty. Perhaps this lack of clarity and that of the subject matter are why the reviews are not more positive.
Profile Image for Laura.
385 reviews516 followers
June 11, 2013
An Irish woman's brother dies. She is obsessed with sex (or, more accurately, with penises) and mumbles to herself about something (maybe death, maybe sex, maybe family -- it's awfully hard to say) for 250 pages.

While my summary of this self-indulgent mess of a book is obviously meant to be facetious, it's not far off. Enright's narrator really doesn't have anything to say, nor does Enright give us any reason that we should want to hear her say it. We're supposed to be interested in the narrator, apparently, simply because the author tells us so. But for whatever reason, she doesn't actually bother to give the reader anything to hang onto, save her admittedly impressive writing technique. Great, but who cares about her technique? A novel needs to be more than technique; technique is cheap, and actually not that difficult. The book comes across as a long writing exercise that the author couldn't or wouldn't shape into something worthwhile.

If you're looking for a work bereft of plot, characterization, or anything else that makes a novel recognizably a novel, buy this book with all due speed. If you'd rather read an actual novel, skip it, and if it's technique you want, try David Mitchell.
Profile Image for Trevor.
169 reviews128 followers
July 5, 2016
This was the only book on the Booker short list that I did not want to read. When it won, I was disappointed because I thought it looked too much like Banville's The Sea, and I did not enjoy my time with that book. However, I thought I needed to give The Gathering a shot. No, I was not pleasantly surprised.
Enright's The Gathering may have a some inciteful, well written sentences, and it may be well structured both in sequence and theme, but for what purpose? I did not feel that the structure was unique and, frankly, I'm getting tired of all of these books that are praised because of how many different ways the author can write a depressing sentence (Enright usually generates hers by showing the human being and its body at its basest). Those poetic depictions lose their impact (and really make me question the skill of the author--does she not know how to write another type of sentence?) when they are repeated line after line, page after page. There was no balance.
I know that Enright was not attempting to balance this book. She admits that anyone not wanting to feel depressed should not read it. But just because she executed her intent does not make me appreciate it. I don't shy away from depressing novels, but I at least hope feel somewhat what the narrator is feeling--but in this case I did not care at all about the narrator. Her depression did not affect me, at least, not frequently enough.
Though they are similar as both deal with present grief and a tragic past, this Booker is worse that Banville's The Sea. At least The Sea was written in beautiful prose. It flowed smoothly. Enright's is downright base and choppy. The only poetry is in how basely she describes sex and death with her disconnected, stiff prose. And even that runs dry after a few chapters.
The Booker judges say that they did not think this book would win when they first read it but that it is better with subsequent reads. Well, they had to read it more than once. I'm not willing to give it another try, and I would advise others to forgo it altogether.
913 reviews401 followers
July 9, 2008
Another one for the growing life-is-just-too-short pile. This book was draggy and depressing, and I didn't get a whole lot out of it. What were those Booker judges thinking?

First of all, while I would be the last person to minimize molestation, its prevalence, and its traumatic effects, it has really become a literary cliche: young child of a dysfunctional family living in a less enlightened place and/or time is molested, no one ever finds out/addresses it properly, young child is psychologically damaged and grows up to live a dissolute life with a tragic end. I can't tell you how many depressing books I've read like this. The way the author built up to the Big Secret that may (or may not) explain Liam's suicide, I was expecting something a little more original. Maybe if I had found the characters more sympathetic and relatable, I would have responded differently, but here, I was so tired of the annoying jumpy stream-of-consciousness and flat characters that my reaction was cynical rather than appropriately moved.

As I read the main character's various musings, I came up with two themes, neither of which particularly resonated with me:

1. Woe is me. My selfish, careless parents went and had this huge family without considering their children's needs. How could they do this to me. I may be an adult, but I'm still not over it and probably never will be.

2. I'm really into sex (except with my husband, for some unexplained reason). Most of my fantasies about my grandmother's imagined past are sexually charged. I'm particularly obsessed with male genitalia, and frequently imagine/describe them in various states with florid detail.

Maybe I'm just not sufficiently intellectual to appreciate this book, but despite some interesting prose, I just couldn't find the tragedy or either of these themes sympathetic, and really couldn't relate to the main character nor to anyone else in the book. As I plodded through, I found myself alternating between depression and apathy and finally decided to just put the book down.

Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews763 followers
July 8, 2012
Take Two:

I'm afraid a re-read is not going to persuade me to add a star, I still can't 'like' this, sorry.The brick wall smash arrived at exactly the same point as the first time round: page 131. Veronica muses on faith and saints, mentioning that her brother Liam liked "three Roman saints with funny names who were turned upside down and had milk and mustard put up their noses, which killed them, apparently. It didn't seem to bother Kitty, as I recall." Kitty, as one might imagine, is the little sister.
Now it wasn't the use of a close family member as experimental object there that brought me up short: I found it funny, I laughed inside. But it did drive home how little delight I was getting from the reading experience, looked at the number of pages still to come and wondered if I could go on. It kind of robbed me of the will to read, which is exactly the same as the will to live in my case.

However, I heroically battled onward: and I must say that at least I have detected a couple of real themes this time. (Thank you Fionnuala). The idea of editing memory, or rather in this case creating completely fictional stories in order to deflect blame away from oneself is a thread that runs through. Perfectly natural thing that we all do to protect our valued self-image is it not? Is that a particularly Irish trait? I don't believe so.
The other thing that was quite revealing was Veronica's experience of a very large family. She is one of twelve siblings - yes, twelve. But basically she grew up as if she had two or three siblings at the very most, because she is only close in any way to those nearest to her in age. The others are just more people in the house who are likely to hit you.

Page 131, by the way, is pretty well exactly half way through. It takes another sixty one pages for the funeral to start. As in real life, the funeral provides a relief. And another forty odd pages before we realize that A slow reveal. A bit too slow for me, and for several of the ladies in my book group. 'I kept waiting for the secret to come out, and then there wasn't one.' was one complaint. But maybe that is less a function of the book than the blurb on the back, which distorts it into a kind of thriller - "It wasn't the drink that killed him...it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother's house, in the winter of 1968." I think it was the drink, myself.

Original review:

I've been assiduously avoiding this one since 2007 when it won the Booker. Lawks a mercy not another dysfunctional rambling Irish family, purleez. And coming together for that most riotous of occasions, a funeral. And a suicide's funeral at that, so lots of opportunity for incrimination. Thus you may imagine my feelings when my reading group chose it for July: my heart sags and heavy grows. The only comfort is that it was not my suggestion, so they can't blame me. But sheesh, I'm going to have to read it at least once more. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I have a huge respect for Ms Enright, there's no denying that she beats the shite out of the English language, pummelling it into submission. But to what purpose? That's what I'd like to know. I feel a bit like one of Alan Bennett's genteel elderly ladies. It's all very interesting dear, but it doesn't get you anywhere, does it?
Profile Image for Barb.
1,179 reviews129 followers
February 13, 2009
Amazing It Could Win Any Award, Let Alone the Man Booker Prize.

This was another selection from my book club. We affectionately refer to it as the 'bad book club' because we have chosen some really bad, awful, horrid, ghastly books and this one is right up there with the worst of the worst as far as I'm concerned.

I guess you either get Anne Enright or you don't and I don't. If this had been some sort of cathartic memoir like Joan Didion's 'Year of Magical Thinking' I could have given the author a little latitude and sympathised with her rediculously abstracted rambling nonsense.

Unfortunately this is a work of fiction and a bad one in my estimation. I would have given the book up at page 75 if it hadn't been a book club choice. I thought the writing was awful, there seemed to be absolutely no point to much of what our narrator tells us and I felt like I needed a bloody translator to understand the rest of what she says.

I just don't get what she was saying.
Here's an example:

'There is no doubt, with his mangled vowels, that Charlie wanted to blend in - unless he wanted to stand out in some way.'

Here's another one:

'I have an expensive body, I realised, sometime in 1979. It isn't a sex thing. Lawyers want to breed out of me and architects want me to sit on their new Eames chairs. Nothing too big at the front, just rangy and tall. So I dress up well, I suppose - though nothing would persuade me into a skirt that stopped mid-calf, to show my transvestite ankles and my poor knobbly toes.'

If the above passages sound like clever fiction to you, you will love this book.

I started marking down the passages that didn't make any sense to me, I have three pages of notes so I can refer back to all of questions I have when we meet for book club, hopefully someone will be able to translate for me.

I know some people loved this, again, I am happy for you. I hated it and if I could have given it the big heave at page 75 without feeling guilty I absolutely would have.

There certainly was enough to talk about for a book group. I always enjoy the discussion, even when I dislike the book. One of my friends told me that I think it's a writers job to spell things out for the reader. She is exactly right, I don't want to have to decipher the code, I want to know what is going on, what happened, what are we talking about? My other friend has excellent radar for all things crazy and she got what Enright was talking about. I don't like reading between the lines. There was just way too much that wasn't said for my tastes.
Profile Image for nastya .
419 reviews258 followers
February 15, 2021
I swear, one day I’ll find Irish literary fiction where no one is raped or molested or lives with a lot of shame! But this was not it...

This book is very similar to the other one I've read by Enright - Actress. We have a dark secret in the center of it (in both novels it's rape). And then we have a protagonist in her 40 in the middle of mental breakdown. And also there is this meandering style of writing that circles around said mystery in a delirious feverish prose and then secrets are revealed.

I am a trembling mess from hip to knee. There is a terrible heat, a looseness in my innards that makes me want to dig my fists between my thighs. It is a confusing feeling – somewhere between diarrhoea and sex – this grief that is almost genital.

And I turn around again and gather the covers about me, as the thing my husband is fucking in his sleep slowly recedes. A thing that might be me. Or it might not be me. It might be Marilyn Monroe – dead or alive. It might be a slippery, plastic kind of girl, or a woman he knows from work, or it might be a child – his own daughter, why not? There are men who would do anything, asleep, and I am not sure what stops them when they wake. I do not know how they draw a line.

I would love to leave my body. Maybe this is what they are about, these questions of which or whose hole, the right fluids in the wrong places, these infantile confusions and small sadisms: they are a way of fighting our way out of all this meat (I would like to just swim out, you know? – shoot like a word out of my own mouth and disappear with a flick of my tail) because there is a limit to what you can fuck and with what, Nugent opening Ada’s belly with his wicked, square fingers, delving into her cavities, taking with careful desire the beautiful lobes of her lungs and caressing – ‘Oh,’ gasps Ada, as the air rushes out of her – squeezing her pink lungs tight.

Both novels have basically the same protagonist who struggling with the same boring middle aged husband who she doesn’t love anymore and have a lot of problems with her family.
At first I thought that this story would be about an adult daughter confronting her always pregnant neglectful Irish mother who doesn't even remember all of her 12 children’s names. This was the part I was interested in. But alas.
I don't think Enright works for me, neither her style of writing, nor her stories, and unless I'll see in future reviews that she changed it up, it think I'll pass. For now I've read enough of this same sad Irish story.
Profile Image for Sarah.
222 reviews41 followers
October 1, 2022
3.5 stars rounded up. Intelligent telling of a woman who has just lost her brother to suicide. A delving into the past for reasons why amidst a very large Irish family. It was good although very depressing, and I didn't entirely connect with the writing. Allusive and mildly confusing in its facts, memory being a main theme, and slightly always an underlying of sex. Sad too, the portrayal of explicit tiredness of humans being humans. Not a light read by any means. One day I will seek out another of Enright's books to get lost in. I recommend this book if you are in a serious mind, definitely not looking for a chuckle.

Before you read, I will let you know, it isn't an easy read.
Profile Image for Kuszma.
2,197 reviews154 followers
May 11, 2021
A gyász nem magányos tevékenység. Illetve egy része az, de nem függetleníthető a "gyülekezettől". Ami Enright esetében az ír nagycsalád, akik körbeállják a testvéri tetemet, könyökölni kell, hogy egyáltalán búcsúzhassunk. A két gyász (személyes emlékekből táplálkozó belső és a rítusokra, konvenciókra támaszkodó, azokkal a viszonyok ambivalenciáját takargató külső) nem illeszkedik össze résmentesen, nem kis részben azért, mert a halott, akit temetni jöttünk, talán nem ugyanaz a halott, akit a család a ravatalon lát. Mi tudunk a halottról valamit, amit mások nem, és ez elviselhetetlen feszültséget okoz a "mi" és az "ő" gyászuk között. Hogy ennek a végére járjunk, le kell ásni, a sírgödörnél is mélyebbre.

Zaklatott, mozaikszerű szöveg, érzékenysége erő, humora pedig - ez kifejezetten nagy bravúr! - nem komolytalanná teszi a tragédiát, hanem kiemeli és aláhúzza azt, emberivé változtatja. Azt hiszem, erre csak a legmagasabb szintű irónia képes. Egyedül Ada nagymama fejezeteit nem tudtam hová tenni, nem éreztem, hogy sikerült volna integrálni őt a cselekménybe. Valahogy kilógott onnan, türelmetlenné tett, mert úgy éreztem, a tökéletes passzusoktól rabolja el az oldalakat. De ez a kritika is csak azt húzza alá, hogy ott vannak azok a tökéletes passzusok, benne, bizony.
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