The Gathering is the story of a family brought together by a crisis. Brothers and sisters come from near and far for the wake of Liam Hegarty, who has drowned himself at the age of forty. Told from the point of view of his sister Veronica, the novel slowly pieces together their childhood as well as the mystery of grandmother Ada. Was she a prostitute, wonders Veronica, and what was her relationship with the ever present and slightly creepy Lamb Nugent really all about?
Veronica is a sharp and brittle narrator. Close in age, she and Liam are like twins, so his death is particularly shocking at a time when her marriage is floundering. But alcohol is her friend, and so is driving off into the night to think. All this thinking is a boon to the story as she teases out threads of memory and puts two and two together.
The Gathering is a fairly intense read with jumps in setting and time-frame, so you need to concentrate. The payoff for the reader is the wonderful writing. Veronica is worldly and waspish and her thoughts are peppered with a bitter humour. She’s not an easy person, but she’s definitely good company. The story takes you to some dark places as you are reminded that the tragedy of the present is seeded in events of the past.
The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 - I have been meaning to read it for some time – but it was definitely worth the wait. Read it, and also read The Green Road, and really anything else by this author if you like vivid writing and stories that probe the complicated behaviour of families.
Reviewed by JAM
Catalogue link: The Gathering