Book Reviews
Comments 4

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.



    • Oh, I lost count. I actually didn’t count until I was halfway. And I stopped counting because it was only mentioned matter-of-factly.


  1. jeannevoelker says

    You’re a very patient reader and patience has its rewards. If I were reading a story where a narrator changed her mind several times about what did or did not happen, I might well give it up… unless I loved the story or the writing.
    (I thought I posted this, but apparently I wasn’t logged in. If you do get it twice, would you please delete one copy?)


    • Hi Miss Jeanne,

      The novel is quite short. I checked Goodreads and found out that I just read this in a couple of days. Perhaps the beautiful writing is what made me keep reading.

      I saw the other comment, but it doesn’t have a face (the same problem that you had last time).


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