Anne Enright’s The Gathering is about family, guilt, alcoholism, love and death. Enright follows the troubles of a large Irish family, specifically 39 year-old Victoria, as they deal with the death of their brother, Liam. Victoria tries to uncover the reasons behind her brother’s suicide, and in the process has to deal with hard truths about her family and childhood.
Victoria and her eight remaining brothers and sisters gather at their childhood home to mourn the loss of their brother, as their aging mother can barely keep their names straight and after years of raising children is in decline. Victoria explores their shared childhood memories of growing up, dealing with their parents and the logistics of having so many children living in one small house. Their collective childhoods were rough and tumble, full of the fights and alliances that exist within all large families.
Liam was Victoria’s favorite brother and they were very close siblings as they spent much of their time together before he moved away. In their twenties they lived together with a rag tag group of friends, experimenting with drugs and sex while trying to grow into healthy adults. Looking back on this period, Victoria wonders how two people with the same upbringing can have such different lives as adults.
Victoria seems to be a typical woman. She has a husband, two daughters, friends and family that she loves, after Liam’s death she closes herself off to them. She starts drinking more, taking long drives at night while she searches her memories for answers. She and her husband grow apart, and her children become distant towards her.
In her inner-searches she explores the woman her grandmother Ada must have been. She imagines Ada’s life as a young girl trying to choose a husband. Even after getting married she continues to flirt with the man who becomes her landlord.
As young children in Ada’s house, Victoria and Liam saw and experienced things that should never have happened. While searching the past, Victoria remembers things she had repressed, things that might have led to Liam’s alcoholism and suicide.
Anne Enright is a brilliant author who manages to realistically convey the struggles and love within a large family. The Gathering is touching and emotional; it will make you think about your own family life. The characters will live on in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned.