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Customer Review

72 of 86 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Simply the Worst, 24 Nov. 2008
This review is from: The Gathering (Paperback)
One of the pleasures of being in a book group is that you find yourself forced to read books you never would have otherwise tried, and as a result, sometimes discover a wonderful work (one such example in my case is Jose Saramago's Blindness). However, the evil twin of that pleasure is the unmitigated pain of wasting precious time slogging through something you can't stand. Unfortunately, not only does this Booker Prize-winner stand firmly in that second category, it is the champion of it: the most hated book of the 70+ I've read for my bookclub, and the least enjoyable work of fiction I've read this year (out of roughly 100 or so books).

Unlike many other haters of this tedious book, I didn't find it particularly difficult reading. The unannounced shifts back and forth in time and place didn't leave me adrift so much as amazed at their clumsiness. Then again, the book is essentially a monologue of remembrance, and human memories are messy things, so I was willing to conditionally accept that messiness as part and parcel of the protagonist. Speaking of the protagonist (middle-aged Veronica Hegerty), many haters seem to focus on her unlikability as the source of the book's problems. Personally, I don't think that a protagonist needs to be likable in any way -- just interesting. But she's not interesting in the slightest, just (like the book itself), annoyingly self-indulgent. I suppose this could be construed as a kind of commentary on her yuppiesh generation, but that seems like grasping at straws. Moreover, there are no other characters to connect with. The entire story takes place within Veronica's head, and even though it's populated with various family members who allegedly mean so much to her (in a love/hate way), the reader never gets a sense of any of them.

The plot -- such as it is -- revolves around the suicide of one of Veronica's brothers, which sends her on a trip to Brighton to bring the body back to Ireland for the funeral (she is gathering the body to bring it back to a gathering of people -- clever). About halfway into the book the "secret" of this brother's lifelong depression is revealed, and it's both jaw-droppingly cliched and wholly simplistic and reductionist. My one hope was that this "revelation" would be the spark that lit a fire under the second half of the book -- but no, it simply plods forward at the same stultifying pace. Ultimately the book has nothing to offer: it has no telling insights into memory or regret, it rehashes the same tired cliches about growing up poor and Irish, its use of the unreliable narrator is rudimentary at best, and its not even notably bleak and depressing. I guess you could make the argument that many of these flaws are actually commentary on the flawed nature of humans, but this doesn't make it worth spending your own precious time on.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Feb 2010 10:53:26 GMT
JPB says:

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jun 2011 13:38:22 BDT
White rose says:
I agree with J P Bloor. This reviewer obviously gallops through books without much real understanding or thought. The Gathering is 'difficult' in that it deals with difficult subjects but the beauty and poetry of the writing makes it worth reading with care and attention.
There are 2 Guardian reviews (available on-line) which A Ross should read. S/He will learn a lot!

Posted on 12 Mar 2012 09:24:18 GMT
I am reading this as a Book Group choice and I agree with all your comments. A very tedious book about a self indulgent boring person whose interest in the seamy side of life is most irritating! Mary Ann Evans

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2012 15:49:16 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Apr 2012 15:49:40 BDT
F E Mattimoe says:
If you have read the book already, what exactly is the purpose of reading a review ?

(I came to this book as a result of listening to "The Book Club" or some such on BBC Radio 4; almost as prestigious as "The Guardian" ...and the author who was on the programmecame over as self-absrobed in the extreme.)

Posted on 12 Jun 2012 21:00:33 BDT
D. White says:
I agree with you - it's depressing, a self-obsessed main character and the revelation was a let-down. I also read it for a book club. None of us liked it. It may be clever, but we aren't clever enough to appreciate it.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Aug 2012 21:57:49 BDT
sally tarbox says:
Reading a review after you've read the book makes total sense! i love to compare my thoughts and reactions with other readers; sometimes they bring out aspects of the work that I'd missed.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Apr 2013 15:23:36 BDT
Seems to be a book for the pseuds!
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Review Details



A. Ross

Location: Washington, DC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 591