Anne Enright’s The Gathering is an emotional and evocative narrative. Liam Hegarty was an alcoholic who drowned himself in the sea. The title refers to the ensuing funeral as Liam’s large Irish family returns to their childhood home to mourn his loss.
The novel is narrated by Veronica, Liam’s closest sibling, and as the plot centers around the funeral preparation, Veronica undergoes significant self-reflection as she searches for the reason Liam’s life went so far off the rails.
This introspection takes the form of flashbacks. Veronica tries to remember specifically when Liam began acting out. Throughout these flashbacks, the reader learns that Veronica and Liam lived with their grandparents for a short period when they were young, and during that time, Liam was sexually assaulted by their grandparents’ landlord.
The Hegarty family is a quintessential Irish Catholic family, and Enright uses the family to critique social issues within the Irish culture. Most overwhelmingly, Enright believes that Irish families are too prideful to admit and address shortcomings. When someone is hurt, they are forced to internalize and solve the problem on their own instead of bringing that problem out into the open. This idea is heavily tied to the Catholic religion, where families have a very difficult time admitting and addressing sins.
Additionally, there is a victim-blaming mentality prevalent in the culture, which allowed for decades of both physical and sexual abuse to go without consequence, as outlined by John Banville.