The Green Road

By Anne Enright

(Norton, $26.95, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

An Irish author, based in Dublin, Anne Enright has published five novels, three story collections and one nonfiction book. In 2015, she was named the first Laureate for Irish Fiction. Her novel The Gathering won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, and her last novel, The Forgotten Waltz, won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

What is this book about?

Meet the Madigans, a family from the west of Ireland that has scattered to destinations as disparate as New York and Mali in West Africa, and now must come together for a last Christmas gathering in their old home on Green Road in County Clare, which their mother, the mercurial and theatrical Rosaleen, is determined to sell and then to divide up the proceeds among them. The grown children fear their childhood  (or at least their memories of it) are on the block as well. Dan is finding himself in New York, Emmet is battling poverty and starvation in Mali, Hanna is an alcolholic actress with an unplanned child on the way and Constance, on whom Rosaleen relies, is facing a serious health problem. Will they find a way to come together, or this their last Christmas as a family?

Why you’ll like it:

Enright, like so many gifted Irish authors, knows how to spin a tale and create compelling characters. And she deftly employs a lilting Irish tone when those characters talk, adding to the authenticity of this tale. Above all, this is a family drama about a dramatic family, people who love and annoy each other in the way that only a family can. If you believe, with Tolstoy, that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” you will appreciate the uniqueness of Enright’s accomplishment here.

What others are saying:

In The New York Times Book Review, author David Leavitt writes: “. . . an impressive novel that bounces its readers through some fairly rocky terrain, not the least of it the green road of the title, as [Enright] charts the fortunes and misfortunes (mostly the latter) of the Madigan family over a period of roughly a quarter of a century…Enright writes with authority and confidence not just about her native Ireland…but about the AIDS-stricken New York in which Dan is making his way and the poverty-stricken Mali where Emmet, the novel’s unsparing voice of conscience, is going about the practical business of saving lives…The Green Road is, in the best sense of the word, a strange novel. Or perhaps I should say it’s a novel that gets stranger and stranger as it goes along.”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “The eponymous road of Enright’s flawless novel is in County Clare in Ireland, running from the impoverished farm of handsome Pat Madigan in Boolavaun, to a house called Ardeevin, where he wooed Rosaleen Considine, daughter of the town’s leading family. Pat and Rosaleen marry and have four children. A volatile drama queen, Rosaleen is the fulcrum about which her children warily move. Even as they mature and flee from her embrace, she exists in their heads, where they continue to blame her for their bad fortunes. In 1980, Rosaleen takes to her bed when Dan, the eldest and her favorite, announces his intention to become a priest. She is even more aggrieved when he abandons the priesthood for the art community in New York in the 1990s and eventually allows his true sexual nature to emerge in a series of ardent gay trysts. Enright (winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Gathering) writes of this time and place with crystalline clarity. The tone is much different in the chapters set in Ardeevin, where the lilt of Irish vernacular permeates the dialogue. Meanwhile Emmet, the second son, is engaged in relief work in Mali, trying to retain his sanity as the death toll from famine mounts and his girlfriend lavishes her love on a mangy dog. Hanna, his sister, is an aspiring actress and a drunk who confronts reality at 37, bitterly ambivalent about being the mother of an unplanned baby. The fourth sibling, Constance, who has married well and lives with her happy family in Limerick, is her mother’s dogsbody and the unappreciated provider. This novel is a vibrant family portrait, both pitiless and compassionate, witty and stark, of simple people living quiet lives of anguish, sometimes redeemed by moments of grace.”

Says Library Journal: “. . . . Rosaleen’s adult children, for the first time in years, are gathering for Christmas in west Clare, Ireland. Rosaleen can’t be made happy, and her children are far from trying anymore, if they ever did. Their own lives, which vary so much they seem to inhabit different eras as well as different countries, need tending. Dan is fearfully navigating early 1990s New York’s AIDS-devastated gay scene and has found a love he can’t even admit to himself is real; Hanna’s acting career, which never really took off, is floundering; Constance’s health scare underlines the isolation she feels in her marriage; and Emmet, the most distant of them all in every way, is exhausted by Ireland’s excesses when he leaves his aid work in Mali. The family’s stuttering reunion is capped by a surprise move by Rosaleen that breaks the tension and forces the children to see their mother and her choices in a new light. VERDICT Booker Prize winner Enright (The Gathering) lays bare the hopes, desperations, and all too brief moments of understanding in family and modern life. Her unsparing look at the difficulties of being in the world will appeal to lovers of literary fiction.

Kirkus’s starred review says: “When the four adult Madigan children come home for Christmas to visit their widowed mother for the last time before the family house is sold, a familiar landscape of tensions is renewed and reordered. Newly chosen as Ireland’s first fiction laureate, Enright showcases the unostentatious skill that underpins her success and popularity in this latest story of place and connection, set in an unnamed community in County Clare. Rosaleen Considine married beneath her when she took the hand of Pat Madigan decades ago. Their four children are now middle-aged, and only one of them, Constance, stayed local, marrying into the McGrath family, which has benefited comfortably from the nation’s financial boom. Returning to the fold are Dan, originally destined for the priesthood, now . . . gay and “a raging blank of a human being”; Emmet, the international charity worker struggling with attachment; and Hanna, the disappointed actress with a drinking problem. This is prime Enright territory, the fertile soil of home and history, cash and clan; or, in the case of the Madigan reunion, “all the things that were unsayable: failure, money, sex and drink.” Long introductions to the principal characters precede the theatrical format of the reunion, allowing Enright plenty of space to convey her brilliant ear for dialogue, her soft wit, and piercing, poetic sense of life’s larger abstractions. Like Enright’s Man Booker Prize-winning The Gathering (2007), this novel traces experience across generations although, despite a brief crisis, this is a less dramatic story, while abidingly generous and humane. A subtle, mature reflection on the loop of life from a unique writer of deserved international stature.

When is it available?

The Green Road beckons readers at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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