BOOK REVIEW: THE GREEN ROAD


TITLE:  The Green Road

AUTHOR: Anne Enright

BLURB: The Green Road is a tale of family and fracture, compassion and selfishness―a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we strive to fill them.

Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart.

In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold. 

There’s a short list of modern Irish novels I would describe as being privileged to have read – Amongst Women by John McGahern and The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor for example. The Green Road by Anne Enright is the newest entrant on that very short list. Anne Enright has been appointed the first Irish Laureate for Literature and this novel alone will demonstrate exactly why that role is so well deserved.

The members of the Madigan family are both unique and universal at the same time. Each one is instantly formed and knowable and has echoes of real people anyone who was born and raised in Ireland over the past half century can immediately recognise. Their journey through life both at home in Ireland and cast across the world from Africa to Canada describes the world of the Irish diaspora so well that even in an unfamiliar setting in an African village there’s enough in Emmett Madigan’s character to make every piece of his story familiar in some way.

The characters are so well written that they carry you along with the sweeping years, through cultural references recognisable to anyone who lived in Ireland or the USA of the time, hurtling toward the inevitable family Christmas that will be instantly owned by the complex dynamic of the Madigan family but uncomfortably close to many other families the world over (the Waltons or the Reagans from Blue Bloods they certainly are not!).

Central to the whole saga is the mother of all the Madigans – Rosaleen. This character is about as predictable and yet complex as any I’ve ever encountered either in the real world or between the covers of a novel. She manages to evoke sporadic bursts of sympathy while never compromising her very unpleasant personality. Numerous references to Dark Rosaleen are fitting reminders of what goes on in her head and yet there are glimpses of the tragic conflict that could, to a lesser degree, haunt the thoughts of any Irish mother.

Issues such as the apparent futility of the west attempting to “fix” the problems of the developing world, through the emergence of AIDs in the USA of the 80s, to the alien nature of the Celtic Tiger are all explored through the eyes and interactions of the main characters. Some of the very subtle observations will rattle around in your head long after you’ve consumed the last delicious word on the last very satisfying page.

Finally, the language is such a treat to read. It evokes very sensual images of the amazing landscape of the west of Ireland and the evolution of a people from backwoods rural to cosmopolitan nouveau riche. With very few time specific cultural references it transports the reader both backwards and forwards through the years, without jarring one out of the all important story.

Most of all, however, it taps into both the psyche and the emotions of the reader and takes you on a bumpy ride along the green road in the company of the Madigan clan.

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