Book Review: The Green Road

Tuesday 18 August 2015 by

Anne Enright, The Green Road, Vintage, Book, Man Booker 2015, ReadingThe Green Road by Anne Enright

Published by Vintage

A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.

The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. 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.

Anne Enright is addicted to the truth of things. Sentence by sentence, there are few writers alive who can invest the language with such torque and gleam, such wit and longing – who can write dialogue that speaks itself aloud, who can show us the million splinters of her characters’ lives then pull them back up together again, into a perfect glass.

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I was delighted to discover an Anne Enright on the list of Man Booker nominees. The Green Road is her latest, but she is one of the more established writers on the list, and a fond favourite of mine. This is like stepping in to a familiar house – warm comforts of home, and everything just as it should be. Which should be strange, considering how off-kilter her writing can be.

Nothing about her stories are comfortable – she confronts the truth head on. And it’s not particularly pretty. The Madigans are your usual dysfunctional family. They grow up, they fall apart and they come together. When Rosaleen, their mother, summons them to Christmas, things start to come to a point.

Each chapter follows each of the children and Rosaleen throughout the years, leading them on to the conclusion which, if not inevitable, is relentless. The thing about Enright’s writing is its unswerving ability to drill up the tension, breaking over in waves that increase with every turn of the page. The characters are unpleasant and flawed, but equally loveable because they are endowed with familiar characteristics that you can come to recognise in yourself. They are comforting in their familiarity, heart-warming in their vulnerability.

It’s gritty and dangerous, and it’s beautiful. Ireland comes to life in the hands of these terribly flawed characters. You wish you could dislike them but the more unpleasant they get, the more you love them. If you have never read any Anne Enright before, you have been missing out. I would definitely recommend reading it, whether you’re an Enright fan or a newcomer.

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