The few books by Irish writers I have read, I have enjoyed very much, and this was no execption. There is something faintly unfamiliar about Irish fiction that makes it exotic and interesting to me: certain words (like "eejit"!), a certain atmosphere of melancholy, the slightly different way of life that is portrayed, and of course the Irish language itself that pops up every now and then.
The Gathering is a dark first person account by a middle aged woman, Veronica, who is dealing with the suicide of the brother she was closest to in her large family, and at the same time dealing with many demons from her difficult childhood, but also her discontent with her present life, especially her marriage. In fact, the novel was much more about Veronica than her brother Liam. Veronica also spends a great deal of time imagining what her grandmother Ada's life was like when she was young and her strange relationship with her husband, Grandpa Charlie, and his best friend, Lamb, who ended up playing a pivotal role in the childrens' lives.
The novel touches on heavy themes: child abuse, alcoholism, mental illness...but also Veronica's struggle to love her husband and be a good mother:
...and it is just as you suspected - most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy to even love you, even that, let alone find their own shoes under their own bed; people who turn and accuse you - scream at you sometimes - when they can only find one shoe.
Haven't we all felt like that as mothers (or fathers) at times? Ultimately the book is a fatalistic view of families and how love is expressed, or not expressed, to our spouses, siblings, parents, children, aunts, uncles...
There are so few people given us to love...We each love someone, even though they will die. And we keep loving them, even when they are not there to love anymore. And there is no logic or use to any of this, that I can see.