This book is essentially about how the unreliable narrator, Veronica Hegarty, tries to make sense of and come to terms with, the death of her beloved brother. Through her own imagined history of her grandmothers life and how she came to meet and marry her grandfather, and the gradual revealing of an incident she witnesses when just a young child, Veronica takes us through the history of her family.
I didn’t enjoy this book much at all. Although she’s meant to be unreliable as a narrator, Veronica’s almost infatuated imagining of Ada’s relationships made the story pointless for me. Her fantastical recounting of her grandmothers sexual encounters told as if relating actual events felt like a waste of time, and when the revelation of the incident is eventually told, it had long ago been guessed by this reader.
None of the characters were properly fleshed out for me, and I think that was the main failing. If I could have believed more in the various members of the Hegarty family, I could maybe have invested more in Veronica’s story and tried to understand her story, but as it was, they were all just names on paper.
There were some good points though, and I did chuckle a couple of times during the final few chapters when the gathering of the title actually takes place, and the members of the family come home for their brothers funeral. There are some nicely observed moments of the various brothers and sisters, but it was so close to the end of the book, that it was too late to make sense of them as individual characters.
One of my other reading group members felt completely the opposite to me, and thought that it was a beautiful, honest description of a large family. She comes from a large family herself, and could identify with the various bonds and connections within the family hierarchy, so maybe I didn’t have the same sympathy with the characters coming from an only child family, but part of me says that it is the authors responsibility to make me believe and empathise with the situation, and not to feel alienated from it.
I wouldn’t be looking to read any further books by this author, but having said that, if I was given another of her books to read for a book group, I would probably give her another chance.