. . . writes Veronica, the narrator of this unusual family saga, in the opening pages, ... "night thoughts, the sudden convictions, that uncertainty spawns." It will be important for us, the readers, to keep this in mind as we get increasingly drawn into Anne Enright's award-winning novel. While it is a family saga of sorts, it is much more a psychological study of a woman in crisis. Written in a straightforward, sometimes witty, conversational tone which later may sometimes prove deceiving, Veronica's thoughts and ruminations move in apparently haphazard fashion from her childhood experiences in the 1960s to the present. The present being some months after the funeral of her brother which brought her together with the rest of the Hegarty clan.
Veronica's crisis centres on Liam, her favourite brother who has died in untoward circumstances. She wants to tell his story, yet finds it difficult to come to terms with who he has become since their intimate childhood years. Did his troubled life commence with an event she recalls observing when she was nine and he eleven at their gran's? Did it actually happen or is her memory playing tricks? Did something happen to her too at that time? In her reminiscences of that carefree long summer holiday with Liam and younger sister Kitty at their grandmother's, a dark cloud was hanging over them. Enright contrasts this special summer with the usual life in the Hegarty family: "Mammy" always pregnant, the father rarely seen around the increasingly large family. Poverty is hinted at in many ways, without being overplayed. Among Vee's shorter or longer introductions of her large family, Ada, the grandmother, stands out as the most important character. Veronica imagines her as a young girl of 18 in 1925, when Irish women had very little freedom to choose which way their life should go. Vee clearly feels drawn to her as she tries to lift the mystery of Ada's relationship to the two men in her life. While she remains a presence beyond her death, others, like the parents, pale to almost nothingness. "Sometimes I don't remember my mother. I look at her photograph and she escapes me."
Returning to that crucial time of Veronica's childhood quite often, Enright's ability to draw out her protagonist's uncertainty as to what actually happened and her emotional turmoil that accompanied the ambiguity of her recollections is exquisite. For Vee, the reverberations of the past appear to stack insurmountable obstacles in the way of her present life, in particular in her relationship to nice and kind husband Tom. Is a way out, a conclusion, possible?
In the end, "The Gathering" that Enright exposes the reader to is not primarily the physical coming together of the family for the funeral, as it is Vee's gathering of memories and reassessments of events and people of the past. The description of the wake, the interaction between the different Hegarty siblings, nonetheless, brings the diverse strands in the story together in a satisfying manner. [Friederike Knabe]