Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Gathering

There are two books by Irish authors on my Challenge list this year that I wanted to read before we actually travel to Ireland:  Troubles by J.G. Farrell and The Gathering by Anne Enright.
The Gathering fills me with ambivalence.  Part of the issue is that I don't have much common ground with the characters naturally.  A Protestant American only child is very far from the sufferings felt by a child from a very large Irish Catholic family.  But having an unfamiliar point of view isn't that uncommon, who wants to read only books about situations they know about?  Something else is wrong, too.  

I think it's mostly that Veronica Hegarty, the narrator, does a pretty poor job of explaining things.  She keeps everyone, even us, at a distance.  After a short while, you realize she's miserable and has a hard time distinguishing memory from imagination.  She also has a very unsettling way of referring to her body and everyone's genitalia in the most awkward and uncomfortable ways possible.  The reasons for this emerge, but like most books with unlikable first person narrators, it makes for something of a grueling read.

Another thing I have noticed is that if the back cover of a book makes reference to a mysterious family secret with long-term repercussions - nine times out of ten it's going to be sexual abuse of a child or teen.  Spoiler alert:  The Gathering is one of the majority.  That may actually be why Behind the Scenes at the Museum was so refreshing - now there's a family that was very thoroughly messed up but next to none of it had to do with sexual abuse.

Not saying by any means that it's not a topic worth writing about.  But it's almost cliche, the way it comes out in The Gathering.  

All that being said, Enright is a fine writer.  She has a great style.  Sharp little sentences that can nick you like a knife.  The best part is that the end does seem to point to optimism in the face of all of Veronica's problems.

Final call:
Skip this if you don't like reading stories narrated in the first person by characters who have a lot of issues, to put it mildly.  Veronica's a tough pill to swallow.

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