It is 1980 in County Clare and Rosaleen Madigan takes to her bed after her son Dan tells he is going to become a priest. This family tale is Man Booker Prizewinning author Anne Enright’s 9th novel. Spanning twenty five years of the life of Rosaleen and her four children we meet them at various times in their lives until they are all brought together again for a final family Christmas in the house they grew up in.
Eldest daughter Constance waits for a mammogram test, son Emmet saves lives in Africa but is thwarted by a relationship and a dog and actress daughter Hannah struggles to cope with motherhood and alcohol. The most vibrant of these is Dan, whose route to the Priesthood is diverted by trips to Fire Island, grappling with his sexuality at a time when men are falling rapidly to AIDS. This provides a very haunting section of the novel.
Although the family go their separate ways , the men getting a considerable distance away, there’s no real escape from the complex relationships they each have with their mother whose presence lurks in the background.
“Why she could not be nice to them, she did not know. She loved them so much. Sometimes she looked at them and she was flooded with love, she just had to go and spoil it. It made her angry in the after-wash. They were so beautiful. They used to be so beautiful. They were so trusting and good. It made her feel not good. Unappreciated. It made her feel irrelevant. That was it.”
It is full of “moments” this novel – vignettes of excellent writing on coping with the complexities and tensions of life. The bringing together of the family for the final section works beautifully, returning home is so often poignant in fiction and this is no exception.
The Green Road of the title is a coastal road running through Burren in County Clare and provides a surprising dramatic highspot of the novel.
The characters are well-drawn and the dynamics of the relationships with one another is handled subtly and convincingly. I have never read Irish novelist Anne Enright before (and I must admit I didn’t feel that inspired when I saw the cover) but I am very glad I picked it up and will now add to my reading list “The Gathering” which scooped many awards including the Man Booker in 2007.
The Green Road is published in hardback in 2015 by Jonathan Cape. It has recently been nominated for the Eason Book Club Novel of the Year in the Irish book awards.