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NOVEMBER BOOK OF THE MONTH DISCUSSION THREAD - Tonight's discussion thread for The Gathering

78 replies

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 11:39

Hi all, this is the thread to use for tonight's bookclub session on The Gathering by Anne Enright - see you at 8pm, can't wait to hear what everyone thinks...

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MadamePlatypus · 29/11/2007 20:33

I think Veronica is unsure about the abuse. She certainly thinks it ruined Liam - maybe it is easier for her to be sure about its effect on somebody else. However, she is unsure how important the abuse is. She says that every large Irish family has somebody who is gay, somebody who is abused. It is only years later when she hears about stories of abuse on the news that she can put it in a modern context. In Veronica's generation her father routinely hits his children and violence is normal in the family. It is clear that Veronica treats her own children very differently.

I think it is suggested that Nugent has abused two generations of children, but the adults have turned a blind eye to it. I don't think Veronica knows herself how far Nugent was evil and how much he was just doing something that was known to be wrong but endemic and accepted.

marimba · 29/11/2007 20:37

Do people agree or believe that it was the abuse that "ruined" Liam? Although it would be understandable, its very hard to know without his word for it.

fryalot · 29/11/2007 20:40

well, it certainly didn't help.

Perhaps if he had had someone he could talk to about it, or if he had had a strong parent figure to help him then he wouldn't have been so bad.

There was obviously a bit of an alcohol theme throughout the family, I think I counted three alcoholics amongst the siblings, so trying to drink himself better would have been his first option I imagine

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 20:42

Yes, sorry marimba, I didn't put my sentence very well - and certainly didn't think you would think it was harmless!

What I meant is that I agree that you're lead to expect a more dramatic situation. And it was interesting that reviewers felt let down in some way by the revelation.

I suppose the episode is in keeping with the whole introspective style of the book - its pretty low key, whilst dealing with all the big themes (death, sex, family). Like lemurtamer put it, its very vague. The vagueness kept the plot ticking over but it did mean I couldn't form a bond with Veronica at all.

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TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 20:46

What does everyone think of Ada? Do you think she stood by as her own children were abused (and is the abuse the reason for Brendan being in the asylum?) Or is that another one of Veronica's imaginings?

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fryalot · 29/11/2007 20:47

I wondered if she had almost offered the children to Nugent in exchange for cheaper rent

Nerdbomber · 29/11/2007 20:51

i think ada was wrapped up in a fantasy world of her own - the fabric book, the theater-like room in her house. she avoids blame or acknowledgement, though i do not doubt that she knew.

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 20:52

I thought she was almost OCD, in that she needed everything to be just so. And here was a situation so messy, nasty and wrong that she jsut couldn't face up to it at all.

I did want to shake her very hard and ask her why she didn't get the hell out of there. Surely a less-nice house without a resident pervert is better than a nice house with one?

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marimba · 29/11/2007 20:53

I thought the same as Squonk. One of the first things we are told about her is that she was a prostitute herself. Again, there's no real evidence of this, and it may all be Veronica's imaginings but a picture is painted of someone who may see flesh as a commodity

CocoDeBearisCocoDeBear · 29/11/2007 20:53

I found it really difficult to keep track of who was who, I felt as vague as Veronica's mother about names, I kept having to flick backwards to find the list of all the children in order.

That made it difficult to engage with them, but I suppose that was perhaps deliberate in a way.

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 20:56

Oh, and meant to say, I think the abuse was partly Nugent's punishment to Ada (as suggested by notyummy at the beginning of this thread). I think he probably wanted to both hurt her and be near her, and that abusing her relatives fitted very well with that, especially if she wasn't telling anyone. She's then in a bizarre secret relationship with him, isn't she?

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MadamePlatypus · 29/11/2007 21:01

Do you think that she would have been able to afford a less nice house? Charlie doesn't seem to have been a very reliable provider. It is suggested that he could have lost the house gambling. This isn't definitely the case, but he doesn't seem to take any responibility for the paying of bills. Does Ada have a job (apart from prostitution?). I missed this.

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 21:08

I completely missed that she was a prostitute!
Have sneaked a peek at the book to remind myself what Veronica says is the truth and what is imagined. And even when saying 'These are the facts', she says Liam 'was probably abused by Lamb Nugent' And then she says it 'explains too much'.

It looks as if she is scrabbling around, making things up to find a reason for all the disasters, unhappiness, alcoholism etc. It has to have a cause somewhere (and she does to look to Ada for that, but can't find it).

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TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 21:10

I completely missed that she was a prostitute!
Have sneaked a peek at the book to remind myself what Veronica says is the truth and what is imagined. And even when saying 'These are the facts', she says Liam 'was probably abused by Lamb Nugent' And then she says it 'explains too much'.

It looks as if she is scrabbling around, making things up to find a reason for all the disasters, unhappiness, alcoholism etc. It has to have a cause somewhere (and she does to look to Ada for that, but can't find it).

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Nerdbomber · 29/11/2007 21:15

tilly - you've hit on why i like this book.

the delightful thing is that all we have to go on are veronica's musings. like mine, her recollections of childhood are foggy, patchy and full of imaginative reconstructions. while i want to know about the characters in her life, all i seemed to really learn about in this book was how she thinks about things and copes with life's hurdles. it's like reading a poetic journal.

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 21:19

Madameplatypus, I guess Ada couldn't afford a house (I think her job is sewing theatre costumes), but surely there was someone who could have taken them in? But your earlier point about abuse being endemic at that time and assimulated into normal life is key, I think. Perhaps she saw it as almost inevitable, and not worth losing a house over?

Still, I think there must be more than finances that kept her there. I think there must be something very cold, very cut off about her, not to try and remove her children/grandchildren from that threat.

(if there is a threat, am beginning to wonder now if the whole book isn't Veronica's mad greif-addled fantasies, and none of it is real at all. aRghh, my head isn't able to deal with this much uncertainty)

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fryalot · 29/11/2007 21:22

that was one of the reasons why I didn't like the book, I want to read a book and be told what is happening, I don't really want to have to guess (does that make sense) I feel somewhat disloyal saying that I didn't really enjoy the book, but if I'm completely honest, I couldn't wait to finish it so I could start on a different one

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 21:26

Absolutely, nerdbomber, I think that's why I admire Anne Enright's style so much - you do feel as if you're inside Veronica's head, shooting off in one direction and then another, and almost swimming along with all her emotions. Its amazingly skillful to pull that off. Yet I don't like Veronica very much (although that doesn't matter really).

Funnily, when I first read it, I thought the major events were set in stone, and they all happened (even the meeting between Nugent and Ada in the hotel reception). But now I feel more and more that its Veronica creating her own narrative, and whats important is that her version of events is real enough to her that it helps get her life back on track.

I suppose the key thing is whether she does tell the rest of the family - then it becomes important that it is true or false?

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MadamePlatypus · 29/11/2007 21:34

Veronica describes walking in on the abuse and then says that it couldn't have happened in the front room, it must have happened in the garage where she rarely went, so was she really a witness? She mentions that Nugent was cruel to Liam in other ways but this is never expanded on.

Now I am confused about what did or didn't happen. However, if the abuse didn't happen, what is the book about?

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 21:36

Don't feel disloyal, Squonk! You are great for coming tonight, for saying what you think and for not throwing the book in the bin by page 10 (which is what I did with Atonement)

And you are not alone - there were plenty of negative reviewers who couldn't stand the introspection and thought it was dreary.

I probably wouldn't have read this book, were it not for the Booker and this bookclub. But what is interesting is that I do now think Anne Enright is original and clever and I want to read other stuff by her. This particular novel may not have completely thrilled me, but I do think the author has serious talent. What do you think, Squonk?

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fryalot · 29/11/2007 21:38

well, it does take a particular talent to write about nothing (Steven King's "Gerald's Game" springs to mind) and I did feel that this book was really about nothing (well, it was about lots of things but as I was no wiser at the end than I was at the beginning, it may as well have been nothing)

I wouldn't have read it were it not for this club, and that was one of the reasons I joined the club, to read things I wouldn't otherwise look at. But if I am entirely honest, without a recommendation from someone I wouldn't read another of hers.

TillyBookClub · 29/11/2007 21:45

MadamePlatypus, I am in a total mind-spiral - have no idea now what did or didn't happen. No proof at all, like you say, that she did see anything.

So. If it didn't happen...

I think the way I'm going to take it, is that Nugent was a nasty character and Ada was a complicated one, and something unconscious in Veronica is sure of that. And here is her story to make sense of it all, and she includes Liam's deterioration in there to make his death acceptable. And the book is about how she needs to believe in that, even though nothing can ever be relied upon. And that we all create these stories to hold everything together, otherwise the death of loved ones or the disastrous relationships that we suffer are too random to be acceptable.

Otherwise, I'm wondering if she's just in deep, deep denial that her brother was an unhappy alcoholic who was born that way. And she has to create an event that a therapist would pin-point as the start of it all. But that seems a bit nonsense?

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chocoholic · 29/11/2007 21:46

I'm afraid I'm another who just couldn't get to grips with this book.
I got to about three quarters of the way through and just couldn't make myself go any further. Even if I dislike a book I usually struggle on to the end but just didn't have any interest in any of the characters and couldn't fathom a story.
(I'm quite relieved I'm not the only one!! )

chocoholic · 29/11/2007 21:49

Perhpas it was my lack of attachement to veronica that was the problem. If I didn't care about her, I guess I was never going to be too interested in her ramblings.

Nerdbomber · 29/11/2007 21:55

I would like to know how Anne wrote this - it feels like a bunch of scraps pieced together. It also feels really personal - how could she come up with all these emotions without experiencing something like them first-hand? Perhaps that's why the Booker judges chose it? Pardon my sounding clueless, but is this what Booker judges look for?

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