Book Review: The Green Road by Anne Enright

Anne EnrightThis was the second of the Bailey’s long listed books I chose to read this year.  I have never read anything by Anne Enright before so this seemed like a good opportunity.  I was also very taken with the premise of the story.

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. As they grow up, Rosaleen’s four children leave the west of Ireland for lives they could have never imagined in Dublin, New York, and Mali, West Africa. 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.  – Good Reads

This is a clever story of 2 halves.  In the first half we are introduced to each of Rosaleen’s children at different stages in their lives and finally to Rosaleen, their contrary and difficult mother.

In the second half we meet them in the present as at Rosaleen’s request they meet together for what must be one of the most awful ‘family Christmases imaginable.  None of the siblings seem to particularly like each other, or at least they constantly see the worst in each other and each of them is frustrated or bewildered by Rosaleen.

These are fundamentally all difficult and not particularly likeable characters.  They are self centred, except perhaps Constance and generally dissatisfied with life and what they have achieved in it.  As characters and mothers go, Rosaleen is dreadful and also dreadfully sad. She clearly fiercely loves her children but is mostly unable to show it and instead mostly demonstrates dissatisfaction and disappointment with them, driving them further and further away, in the case of her sons,  Africa and America.

I immediately lost myself in Anne Enright’s writing.  Her ability to create tension, heartbreak,  and stir up uncomfortable feelings in the reader is exemplary.  I revelled the internal dialogues she created in her characters, particularly within Rosaleen.

“The red cards were very simple but they were good cards.  The red was very satisfying; not so much a sky as a background, like something you would see in a Matisse.  Vermillion.  Rosaleen closed her eyes in pleasure at a word she had not expected and at the memory of Matisse: a red room with a woman sitting in it, from a postcard or a library book perhaps, and there the woman still stayed in her head, waiting to surprise her for never having left.  Waiting for her moment which was an ordinary moment – half past four on a Thursday in November, the sun about to set, sinking towards New York and, below New York as the world turned, all of America”

This book demonstrates so many things, not least the unbreakable bond with home and family, which is perhaps particularly true and strong and painful at Christmas.

“The people inside the room were older, too.  All of them childlike still, despite the absurd grey hairs and the sagging skin in which their familiar eyes were set.

They worked the gravy and the sauces, passed stuffing, the salt, the water jug and the wine.  They looked at the plates heaped with food and marvelled aloud at it, each of them silently shouting that she could not take it away from them, whatever it was – their childhood soaked into the walls of the house”

I loved this book despite it making me sad and squirm and feel uncomfortable.  I have a sneaking suspicion this will be in my top five books of the year.

What else would you recommend by Anne Enright?

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  1. June 9, 2016 / 11:56 am

    Great review. She is a phenomenal writer. I’ve read The Gathering which was bleak but very well-written. Bronte

    • June 10, 2016 / 6:03 am

      Thanks Bronte. I was so impressed by The Green Road and would love to read more from her so will maybe check out The Gathering.

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