There's no word in this book that isn't beautiful. There's no page, no paragraph and not even a phrase I'd take out of it. No word is wasted.
That is such a rare quality in a book, especially these days when writers seem to err on the side of verbose, describing everything in excrutiating detail, including hyphenated descriptors in every single bloody sentence, driving me MAD with it all. Sorry, a bit of frustration coming out there, but I really have had enough of that sort of writing. Pared down, writing is so much more beautiful. Read Anne Enright and you'll see how prose can sing, when treated as prose should be treated. Less is, really, so much more.
The Gathering is the sort of novel most of us have read before. It's a story about an unhappy Irish childhood, filled with alcoholism, brutality and child abuse. Unfortunately, these things are pretty universal, but for some reason this sort of grimness, usually including poverty and the presence of way too many children for any family to handle, tend to happen in Irish families. But that's where the stereotype ends. Instead of an unrelentingly bleak, whining sort of tale Enright turns her story into an introspective, revelatory exploration about depression in her main female character, Veronica. This character hits absolute rock bottom, despite the fact she's actually enjoying a rather steady, middle-class life when the story opens, married to a successful man. She has two beautiful daughters who may not be completely enamored of her, but they most definitely do love her. She hasn't wrecked them, as her parents nearly did to her.
Veronica's brother, Liam, has died when the story opens. The two of them were close as children, but at the heart there's was a love-hate relationship. At the funeral, which Veronica's family must pay for as the rest of her siblings can't be counted upon to come up with cash, everything explodes for her. A realization hits, a childhood memory comes flooding back, and she wrestles with the idea maybe it's not such a bad thing Liam's died. She had loved him, but it was a somewhat destructive love, one that nearly tore her apart.
If it's not obvious, I loved this book. It's nearly perfect, or maybe it is perfect but I always feel wary of calling any book that because it's just so overused. It's rough reading this book, but I'll tell you there's a redemption before it's over. It's such a gem. I really hope it will be very widely read.
From The Gathering:
"A week after Liam's funeral I look at my husband's body. Asleep. Alive. I want to see all of it. It is a warm night. I take off the covers quickly, and he moves and is still again.
Tom is sad in his sleep. His hands are gathered under his chin, his legs are impossibly long and large, they do not look bent so much as broken at the knee. The hollow under is ribcage slopes to a little low, pot-belly and the cushion of his scrotum rests in the V of his thighs. He is very pale.
I remember making love to this body; a cloud of hair around the bridge of his penis, when I looked down from above; the little roof of his underarm, like a nave without a church, when I looked up from below. This was back in the early days, when we could not get enough of each other and he traced a candy-stripe of moles around my body, rolling me over as he went, until I was completely unwound, and tipped from the bed to the floor.
I remember the size and straightness of his collar-bones under his shirt, one night in the rain, in the early-early days, when it wasn't like sex so much as like killing someone or being killed.
There he is now, in our bed, still alive. The air goes into him and the air comes out. His toenails grow. His hair turns silently grey.
The last time I touched him was the night of Liam's wake. And I don't know what is wrong with me since, but I do not believe in my husband's body anymore."