Thursday, April 3, 2008 by Laura
"There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all." (p. 27)
The Gathering is an intimate and painful look at grief. Veronica Hegarty's life has been turned upside-down by her brother Liam's suicide. Throughout this novel Veronica operates in a fog, disconnected from her siblings, her husband, and her children. She is barely able to function. As she reflects on her brother's life, she tries to piece together elements of their shared past, but her childhood memories are fraught with inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Liam's death also makes her keenly aware of her own less-than-satisfying adult life: "I was living my life in inverted commas. I could pick up my keys and go 'home' where I could 'have sex' with my 'husband' just like lots of other people did. This is what I had been doing for years. And I didn't seem to mind the inverted commas, or even notice that I was living in them, until my brother died." (p. 181) When did it all go wrong?
As winner of the 2007 Booker Prize, The Gathering has received more than its share of reviews. It seems to be a "love it or hate it" book, mostly because it is so bleak. This is, indeed, a very sad book. Each person seems to be lost in their own island of grief, unable to support one another. Veronica withdraws completely; her siblings are each caught up in their own childhood baggage and destructive behavior patterns. As the book draws to a close, the truth has proven to be elusive, and the future is uncertain. Those looking for neat and tidy endings will be disappointed, but I found The Gathering's stark realism to be both intense and memorable.
My original review can be found here.