Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Gathering

The blurb on the back of the book describes the novel thus:
"The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn't the drink that killed him - although that certainly helped - it was what happened in his grandmother's house, in the winter of 1968.
The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and about how our fate is written in the body, not the stars."
While being accurate, I'm not sure this describes the book to best effect. I also feel that the book should maybe have had an alternative title.

The novel is narrated by Veronica who was the sibling closest to the deceased Liam. Through a series of flashbacks she tells a number of stories - that of her own life and marriage, her journey to Brighton to identify and reclaim Liam's body and the impact on the family of his death. 

The gathering of the title doesn't actually occur until three quarters of the way through the book  after the family history has been recounted. The central story is of an incident which may or may not have happened when Veronica, Liam and their younger sister stayed with their Grandmother, Ada. In explaining the incident, Veronica also relates the history of Ada, her husband Charlie and his friend, Nugent. How much of this backstory is true is, however, open to question - her "memories" contain a certain amount of conjecture.

The book explores how memory can work two ways; how the past, or our perception of the past, impacts on our lives and the choices we make and also how our experiences and knowledge affect our interpretation of the past. Another central theme is the how emotion motivates the behaviour and responses of individuals and those close to them.
The writing is beautiful with a richness of language which reminded me of another Irish Booker winner - The Sea by John Banville. Unlike that book, though, I felt I cared about the characters and the story in The Gathering. The beauty of the prose enhanced the story-telling rather than seeming to be an end in itself.

All in all, The Gathering is a wonderfully crafted and thought provoking novel. I highly recommend it.


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