The Green Road By Anne Enright.
W.W. Norton| May 11, 2015| 304 pages | $26.95| ISBN: 978-0-393-24824-0
A perfect novel with imperfect characters that spans decades and continents. Dublin author and Booker prize winner Anne Enright [The Gathering] writes beautifully constructing plausible and faulty characters, of which one wants to read more, know more and become attached. The Green Road is where the family matriarch Rosaleen Madigan enjoys taking long walks. Rosaleen is strong-willed, unyielding and resilient particularly after becoming a widow. In Ardeevin, County Clare, Rosaleen raises four children—two daughters Hanna and Constance and two sons Dan and Emmet. The children move away from their childhood home and live varied lives throughout the world.
Dan becomes a priest but then moves to New York with a fiancée. He carries on a relationship with the handsome Billy lying to himself that he’s gay only for Billy. Enright writes: “Two nights later, at eleven forty-five p.m., Dan the spoilt priest was outside Billy Walker’s door, looking for sex. Again. And sex is what he got.” During the early 90s he’s in the midst of New York’s gay scene at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Later he finally admits he’s gay and marries a man in Canada. Emmet travels the world to aid the impoverished and fulfill his wanderlust. He never has to commit to any one place or one person for long. He travels to war-torn, medically inefficient countries to work to help improve their living conditions. At one point he’s living with a woman in Africa. His relationships are always tenuous and he cares more for his own happiness and the people he’s helping on his various missives than any long-term coupling. Constance remains close to home to raise a family after somewhat settling in marriage. She once considered moving to America but didn’t get on the plane. “Constance still liked Ireland, the way you could talk to anyone. I would not be the same in America, she thought, and tried to remember why she failed to get on the plane.” Hanna gives up her love of theater and the potential for a career when she gets pregnant. These are flawed, struggling children that Enright describes and develops with compassion.
In 2005, Rosaleen summons her children home for one last Christmas as she’s decided to sell the family home. “She had been waiting, all her life, for something that never happened and she could not bear the suspense any longer.” This brings out the inner child in the four siblings and makes for a messy homecoming. Enright writes: “The truth was that the house they were sitting in was worth a ridiculous amount, and the people sitting in it were worth very little. Four children on the brink of middle-age: They had no money. Dan, especially, had no money, and he could not think why that was, or who might be to blame. But he recognised, in the silence the power Rosaleen had over her children, none of whom had grown up to match her.” No one wants the family house sold. No one wants that disruption. Nobody wants the truth. As Rosaleen thinks: “Such selfish children she had reared.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.
Anne Enright will be reading at Harvard Book Store May 13, 2015 at 7pm.