Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 12, 2010

The Gathering (2007), by Anne Enright, Winner of the Booker Prize in 2007

Oh, it’s wonderful to read a really interesting book after that daft Mysteries of UdolphoThe Gathering by Anne Enright is an intriguing meditation on loss and redemption, written in a lyrical style that renders the narrative shocks more potent.  Here’s a sample:

There is something wonderful about a death, the way 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.   And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest.  And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected – most of the stuff you do is just stupid, really stupid, most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy even to love you, even that, let alone find their own shoes under the bed; people who turn and accuse you – scream at you sometimes – when they can find only one shoe. (p27)

This raw truth shocks, but it is so true about death and how it disarms you from everyday life.  It is so disorientating to lose someone that you love that nothing seems important any more, sometimes not even the other people that you love.  Nothing makes sense, and you are plagued by uncertainty and doubt because memories and false memories and conversations with the dead wind themselves into everyday life so that some or most of the time you no longer know what is really happening. And, most disorientating of all, you can feel a kind of thrilling superstitious awe about how angry you are with the dead…

The last book I read about a family gathering was John Banville’s The Infinities.  (See my review).  Adam Godley was returning home to witness the death of his father, but the  family gathering was accompanied by a gathering of naughty Immortals, interfering with events.  It was a playful, earthy book, yet wise in the way that it explored human behaviour.

Anne Enright’s The Gathering is much more sombre.  The writing mirrors the way the thoughts of the bereaved meander.  Veronica Hegarty is overwhelmed by the suicide of her brother Liam, and her thoughts are a clutter of memory, imagination and truth.  She herself is not sure which is which.   She knows that; she tells us so.  She is determined to be truthful but her efforts are doomed because she is a psychological mess.

She ‘remembers’ how her grandparents met and fell in love and honeymooned, although of course these events took place before she was born.  She ‘remembers’ Liam visiting her in hospital after her first child was born, but knows that only some of what she remembers is true.  There are other much darker memories which I won’t reveal – though you can probably guess because there is a horrid inevitability about this theme in so much of modern literature…

It is both beautiful and disjointed, as if a poet’s thoughts are being short-circuited or redirected down different pathways without the poet’s permission.   It’s not easy reading, but it’s strong and purposeful in the way that Enright reveals some most unpalatable aspects of human nature without pessimism or bitterness.  Some parts will make you laugh in spite of yourself…

Do read A.L. Kennedy’s review at The Guardian, John Self’s at Asylum and the comments  – but not till after you’ve finished reading the book.

Author: Anne Enright
Title: The Gathering
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, 2007
ISBN: 9780224078733 (First edition hardback)
Source: Personal library, purchased second-hand from Abe Books)


  1. Im glad someone liked this book because I really didn’t. I wish I could be more positive but I really didn’t like it.

    The truth is – I found it really boring. It was so slow. Nothing interesting happened.

    I will be giving The Infinities a try soon though :-)


  2. Ah, I’ll be interested to see what you think of The Infinities then – that’s a book that’s also polarised opinion, but it appealed to my sense of mischief.


  3. An excellent review, Lisa. I read this when it was short-listed for the Man Booker and remember thinking it was a fairly grim read, but there was something about Enright’s voice that was compelling. I keep meaning to read more of her stuff but have never gotten around to it…


  4. Thank you, Kim. I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted books for that year – do you think it was the right one to win?


  5. I had to go check the official website to see what other books were shortlisted that year. I’ve read two others — The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (over-rated) and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (all too brief) — and I have to say that The Gathering towers above them. (The others on the list were Darkmans by Nicola Barker, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones and Animal’s People by Indra Sinha.)

    I do remember being on a flight to New York the evening of the winning announcement, getting off the other end and checking my phone for a text message from T, telling me the name of the winner. When I found out it was Enright (at that time, the only shortlisted one I’d read), I did a little jump for joy ;-)


  6. I liked the two you’ve read, and Mr Pip (very much) but yes, not in the same league as The Gathering. I must get round to reading Darkmans, I’ve had it on the TBR for ages….


  7. I liked The gathering well enough – I generally liked her writing though, as I recollect, felt there was some clumsiness particularly in some of the foreshadowing. The subject matter was moving though. I gave it the equivalent of 4 stars at the time so that’s pretty good eh?


    • I guess it’s always going to be a fine line between getting deliberate disjointedness right and clumsiness LOL. Have you read anything else by Enright?


  8. No, but I’d willingly do so…


  9. There’s *heaps* to choose from, see


  10. I just finished reading The Gathering after reading your review Lisa. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and couldn’t put it down. I read it in one day.

    I even forgave her speculation about how her grandparents met. Who hasn’t done the same thing about their own family at one time or another?

    I thought the book reflected just how bewildered and irrationally someone would behave over the death/suicide of a sibling who was close to you in age as well as in love and childhood adventures.

    I couldn’t decide if the disastisfaction with her husband was caused by her grief, imagined slights or had its roots in deeper material.

    Thank you for reviewing this one.


    • Yes, I think you’re right about the speculation. We all do it!


  11. OOPS. Those darn typos have crept in again!!


    • *chuckle* Your fairy godmother has fixed them!


  12. […] because Anne Enright is a guest at the forthcoming (digital) Melbourne Writers Festival.  I read The Gathering when it won the Booker Prize and really liked it, and I have The Green Road on the TBR.  But […]


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