On the surface, The Gathering is about the death of one of Veronica’s brothers – Liam; and the title signifies her family gathering together for his funeral. Veronica, remembering an incident which happened to Liam when they were children, is convinced that it was a turning point in Liam’s life – the event that caused him to become the tragic brother she was once so close to.
Veronica comes from a large and seemingly dysfunctional (at least to her, anyway) family, and throughout the novel, she tries to make sense of her life and the death of Liam by remembering and retelling stories of the past. She tries to piece together memories from her childhood and tries to reconstruct the lives and times of her grandparents Ada and Charlie.
More of an inner journey into her own thoughts and past, Veronica also tries to come to terms with her life at the present – a husband and two daughters, and tries to see if she can have a future with them, even after everything she’s been through.
The book alternates between the past to the present as Veronica recollects random events from her childhood and imagines events which may have happened in her grandparents’ lives.
I would like to say that I liked, or even that I understood this novel, but to say that I did would be a lie. The story of Veronica is very complex, with all her inner thoughts and ramblings, which made the novel, for me, a struggle to read.
I was intrigued at first as the novel opens with Veronica admitting to remembering an incident as a child which may have led to Liam’s death as an adult. Veronica’s goal to uncover the truth by telling stories of her past, however, become less structured and more abstract as the novel progresses. Many times I felt that the narration was nothing more than the random ramblings of a distraught woman. And I admit, probably one of the reasons why I disliked the novel was because of its almost stream of consciousness style at times.
The Gathering has a very heavy, raw, somber and even bleak feel to it. It is a novel to be taken seriously, and not the type of book you would want to read to just relax and ‘get away from it all.’
Though quite short – the Vintage paperback edition is only 261 pages long – I found it quite a challenge to finish.