The gathering of the title is that of the surviving family members of Liam, whose suicide is the catalyst for the book. The narrator is Veronica, Liam's sister and closest friend. Ostensibly the book is about the incident that happened to Liam when he was a child that ultimately led to his suicide as an adult. And so we have several threads to follow. First, the story of Ada, Veronica and Liam's grandmother. Then Veronica's remembered childhood with Liam. Then what happens between Veronica being told of her brother's death and the funeral. And finally Veronica after the funeral, when she is writing this book.
And here is part of the problem. Veronica admits she knows nothing of Ada's past, so everything she writes here is pure conjecture. She invents a love story for the woman that is highly improbable and there's no reason to believe any of what is written here. Her own past is full of half memories, things forgotten, invented memories and repressed memories, besides we know that she's an unreliable narrator so we're already questioning everything she tells us. What happened to Liam as a boy takes more than half the book to get to and when we do it's so obvious that it's almost banal. You can probably guess it right now. What might have happened to a nine-year-old boy that would have affected him so much he'd kill himself as an adult? Even Veronica by now seems to realise how pointless the admission is and she devotes only one paragraph to it. Most of the book is devoted to Veronica, both leading up to the funeral and after. And she just comes across as self-obsessed, selfish and put upon. She is the epitomy of middle-class ennui and I have no sympathy for her.
The narrative is broken up and never really gets going. Sentences are chopped into tiny bits by too many commas and the different threads of the story stop and start with no real reason or conclusion. The events in this book happened off the page, as it were, before this story begins, which means there is little reason to read the book. And at risk of 'spoiler's the love story between Nugent and Ada is improbably and doesn't make much sense; it is much more likely that Veronica's mother is right and Nugent is just the landlord. What he has done to Liam and probably the other children in the book is indeed horrendous but it is just a footnote here. A more interesting story would have been whether Ada knew of the abuse and let it carry on because of the difficulties the family had paying the rent. Decidedly mediocre.