It’s not evil to describe a flaccid penis – The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The narrator is Veronica. She is middle-aged, married, with kids, and says penis a lot. I wouldn’t have noticed the last detail had I not been warned by a friend, asking me to count the word penis. Not that the narrator is sexually deranged, it just so happened that she watches her husband sleeping naked and describes it, and remembers her brother Liam peeing an arched piss and describes it. There is nothing sexually notorious, except for one wriggling memory that may have affected her brother’s behavior before he died.

And this memory is something that Veronica could not even conjure without raising the demons of doubt altogether. No, it happened this way. No, it was like this. No, I am not sure that it happened.

Liam’s death necessitated the gathering of the eight surviving siblings, including Veronica. In this novel, Veronica rethinks her life to find out the truths that ultimately led to his brother’s death. This did not prove to be an easy task, and whoever said that it’s nothing, it’s fine, must not be a living organism.

For a while, I practised with my own wounds and scabs, and was taken, each time, by the brightness of the red on the white toilet paper I used instead of Ada’s tea towels. Children do not understand pain; they experiment with it, but you could almost say that they don’t feel it, or do not know how to feel it, until they are grown. And even then, it seems we always feel pain for the wrong thing. Or so it has been with me.

The first pages of the book might make the reader a little suspicious, for Veronica states that she wants to write her story and her brother’s story, and something that has, or has not, happened when they stayed at her grandmother’s house. A sign of unreliability, you might say, but give it the benefit of the doubt.

Throughout the novel, the narrator keeps on revising the details of her past. She would go on to say that this is what happened. The next chapter, she would start and say, no, that is not what happened, this is what really happened. I was sometimes annoyed because I was trying to formulate my own conclusions, and at the flick of the page, she would invalidate the facts. It even got to the point that I hurled my mass market edition just to breathe.

Just think about this: Veronica’s unreliability could be just the most reliable virtue that she has. In rethinking and doubting her memories and herself, we understand that she is trying her best to come up with the most truthful account of the best to the best of her abilities, or lack thereof. This could backfire though, because the impatient reader might just give up on the novel and look for something else to read.

But this book is rewarding. The narratives are alive with descriptions that seem like they are your own memories. It’s either that or the words are just too precise to evoke the right image. Truth is, there isn’t enough action going on in the present. Liam dies. He drowns himself. His body is sent to the household. Father and mother and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews gather.

And really, that is not what we are looking it. We watch Veronica’s perfect life crumble as the past joins in the reunion. She realizes a lot of things about Liam, to whom she is closest with, and about herself. She escapes from the presence of her husband and her daughter to take long drives, to drink maybe some whiskey, and to mull things over. The past sends shockwaves and unsettles her so much that she re-examine her life, her pains, her demons.

And this death, Liam’s death, is not the novel’s main attraction. When a person dies, the drama unfolds around the people nearby that person. That’s where the attraction is, and that is what the novel tackles. And funny, we almost always have this need for a change when death occurs, particularly the death of a loved one. Hence, Veronica’s story.

4 star - really liked itIt annoys me that some readers hint at this as softcore porn. There is nothing pornographic in it. I will defend it against the haters, although there will be too much defending to do because I noticed that the book has a lot of haters, based on the average ratings at social book networking sites. I even raised my rating a notch higher as a sign of my appreciation for this novel.

And going back to the innumerable mention of penis, I doubt that this stems from a strong sexual desire. I think that Veronica, and Liam for this matter, are merely looking for love. Veronica wouldn’t be struggling too much had she been comforted by love. Liam’s cause of death, surely, is his inability to find that elusive pure love. So why are people bothered when Veronica mentions her husbands dead penis and its purplish scrotum?

Oh well, Veronica takes in a lot of details. This can be a tiresome attribute, but they are nice details anyway. They can be funny, scathing, pointless, bittersweet. And these details, thoughtfully picked up, when put together, produce a sense of harsh displacement that wanes, and wanes, and further wanes until the inevitable revelation.

Holiday Book Gifts

TFG Christmas Party Gifts

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over. Gifts have already been opened. For book lovers and book hoarders, piles of books that will probably be stocked on the shelves must have been wished for and granted. And life resumes to normal programming.

But before all that, let me just list down the books that I got during the holiday season. Some of these I bought for myself, some given to me, and some I wished for.

Company Christmas Party Gifts

Company Christmas Party Gifts

First is my set of J. R. R. Tolkien books, The Lord of the Rings series plus The Hobbit. The last two of the LOTR series were given to me by my office best friend during our Christmas Party last December 16, 2011. She, or rather we, couldn’t find the first installment, so I had to hunt for it online. Fortunately, I found one at eBay.ph. It was delivered last December 23, 2011. I didn’t realize that these used trade paperback editions are hard to find as one set.

The Hobbit was given to me by my team mate the Monday that followed our Christmas Party, December 19, 2011. I don’t mind it being a mass market edition. It is really touching because she, being a reader of Rick Riordan and J. K. Rowling, knows the importance of having the prequel of a series. And I haven’t given her anything yet in return.

TFG Christmas Party Gifts

TFG Christmas Party Gifts

The next set is given to me during our book group’s Christmas Party last December 17, 2011. Money and Tess of the D’Urbervilles were given to me by our book group’s leader-grandfather, KD. He also gave me The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, but a friend borrowed it before I could even sniff its pages. Hence, its absence from my book shelf as of this moment.

Revolutionary Road is from my Chami, Maria. I already have a copy of this, but it’s in Baguio City. She insisted that I have this because I have no idea yet on when I could haul all my Baguio books with me. And the movie tie-in edition is irresistible. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Any objections?

My Name Is Red is from my loyal buddy Atty. Monique. She actually went to the trouble of buying two books from my wish list just to make sure I don’t get a duplicate. The other book that she bought as a reserve is The Land of Green Plums, which of course she is keeping for herself.

What I got from our exchange gift is the Herta Muller book, given to me by Ayban. I suspect his real name is Ivan, but being a hardcore Filipino, he chooses to spell his name the Filipino way. Ayban had the good humor to make a joke during the exchange gift by first giving me The Piano Teacher. Well, this book is also in my wish list, but it’s the one written by Elfriede Jelinek. The expression on my face was really funny because I swear my eyes went out of their sockets when I saw the title. I didn’t even mind that it’s a used book. But I couldn’t fight my disappointment when I saw who the author is. He relieved my disappointment by giving me my real gift.

Pre-Christmas Books

Pre-Christmas Books

Before and after the Christmas Parties, I have also been going around book stores to buy books for myself and books for giveaways. Below are the books that I am keeping for myself.

December 16, 2011

Ten North Frederick by John O’Hara – Php 10.00 at a neighborhood thrift store.

A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis; The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa – Php 145.00 each at Book Sale Cityland.

December 18, 2011

The Gathering by Anne Enright; Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson – Book Sale Edsa Central, Php 20.00 and Php 70.00 respectively. I already have and read Enright’s Booker winner, but I couldn’t resist cheap trade paperbacks.

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell – Book Sale Farmer’s Plaza. Php 115.00.

Virginia Woolf Pencil

Virginia Woolf Pencil

And finally, a pencil that I might never sharpen. This beautiful Woolf pencil is again from my Chami, Maria, who bought this at one of the book stores in Singapore.

To everyone who shared all their bookish blessings, thank you, thank you!

The Gathering – Anne Enright

The Gathering - Anne Enright

The Gathering - Anne Enright

Date Started: April 18, 2011. 3:15 AM.

It is the worst-rated book in my current to-read list, according to the ratings at GR. However, that did not dissuade me from reading it. It is just a little annoying that the protagonist went on at great length to describe the meeting of the supposed lovers of 1925 then end up by saying that they did not end up marrying each other. Tragic, but there must be some reason that such details are indulged to the reader.