The Gathering

the hathering

 

“People do not change, they are merely revealed.”
Anne Enright, The Gathering

The Gathering is the fourth novel by Irish writer Anne Enright, and the first book I have read of hers. It has been my intention to read more Irish literature and you couldn’t get more stereotypically Irish than this book. Veronica and Liam – two siblings from a Catholic family of 12 children. As Veronica travels from Dublin to Brighton to claim her brothers body she recalls bits and pieces of her childhood with her favourite brother.

It was difficult to churn through Anne Enright’s clunky narrative or even warm to the protagonist Veronica, but I did enjoy reading the parts on Veronica’s thoughts on her marriage. I wonder how important our role is as a mother, just how much are we actually needed and how much of what we do is down to pure laziness from our children. When Veronica’s brother, Liam dies she knows that everything will go on with out her. A family death giving her an automatic ‘hall pass’ from her life, and for a short while she can flee from the suffocating responsibilities of a wife and mother and take some time to gather her thoughts.

“There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest. And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected – most of the stuff that you do is just stupid, really stupid, most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy to love you.”
Anne Enright, The Gathering

The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize and yet I couldn’t wait for the book to end. I am not a reader who normally shy’s away from gritty stoicism in my book choice, so why did I struggle through this book? It may be because the depressing themes pervading the book seemed to have no point and no summarisation at all. The problem is nothing really happens. In the end there is no story. The Gathering is a well written book, but it is a book written for writers rather than readers. Sometimes I think writers forget why they are writing a book, they write to be read after all and a reader wants a good story; to be entertained, thrilled and maybe even appalled a little, but they want a good story and The Gathering just doesn’t deliver.

That is why a book like The Gathering can have such disparate reviews, on one end of the scale are readers who simply enjoy a good story, the way it is written can easily be forgotten if it is a memorable and enjoyable read and on the other end are the high brow readers who pick a book apart for its structure and prose and the idea of an enjoyable plot line becomes lost and largely unimportant in their pursuit for that elusive of all things, ‘the perfect sentence’.

 

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Brighton, England

Fortune tellers, fish & chips, candy floss, hot fresh donuts, Brighton rock and a fun fair at the bottom; what’s not to like about Brighton Pier? I stayed at the Royal Albion hotel this weekend overlooking Brighton pier and the burnt skeleton of the old pier. The Royal Albion is a tired old hotel which only adds to the wonderful kitsch and camp ambiance of the sea front of Brighton. Visiting towns around the world during their off-peak seasons can be an invaluable experience, and not just for the shorter queues to the popular local attractions!

Burnt skeleton of the old Brighton pier

Burnt skeleton of the old Brighton pier

Sea bathing for pleasure and for the health benefits has been fashionable in the fishing town of Brighthelmstone (later called Brighton) since the 1730’s. Dr Richard Russell, a physician in Lewes promoted the idea that many diseases could be cured by a simple ‘dip’ in the sea. Dr Russell built a house on the sea front where the Royal Albion hotel now stands.

To ensure appropriate modesty bathers were taken down to the sea in carts called ‘bathing machines’ where dippers, usually strong sea-faring folk, would hold the terrified weak bather to prevent the surf from carrying them out to sea. Martha Gunn, a fisherman’s wife, became the most famous dipper as she often assisted the Prince of Wales to bathe in the sea. Martha’s work was awarded with certain privileges including free access to the kitchens at the Royal Pavilion, the Royal pleasure palace, no doubt leading to her excessive weight gain through her life.

Royal Pavilion

Royal Pavilion

Pavilion pleasure palace kitchens

Pavilion pleasure palace kitchens