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The Green Road by Anne Enright

The Green Road (2015)

by Anne Enright

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The Green Road is a family narrative told through place and time. The writing demonstrates real lives filled with compassion and selfishness and effortlessly carries the reader forward. It is a thoroughly Irish book that considers issues both modern and traditional through that lens. Our Thursday night book group enjoyed it for a variety of reasons that led to a lively discussion. I found the writing style and the structure of the book the best aspects, even while some of the characters, not all, were somewhat opaque. The story explored both the gaps in the human heart and family tensions in our modern age.

The story unfolds over decades with the first half of the book constructed from vignettes that might stand on their own as short stories. These stories explore the lives of the children of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart. Each of the four Madigan children and their mother Rosaleen receive a chapter of their own beginning with Hannah Madigan. Hannah's chapter focuses on a family member as a child and deals with her relationship with her father. She is traumatized by viewing the culling of a chicken for dinner on her grandmother's farm. Dan Madigan's story jumps forward to 1991 during his time in New York with his fiance as his repressed homosexuality comes to the fore during the AIDS epidemic. He gradually accepts his life and begins living in Canada with a life partner. Constance Madigan's chapter is based in 1997 Limerick and considers her domestic roles of mother and wife. She is seen balancing the concerns of her health that make her face her own mortality. Emmet has traveled to Mali in 2002 and works with impoverished children even as he is haunted by previous relief work he has been involved with. All the while his relationships are slowly deteriorating.

Rosaleen, in her early old age, 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. The second part of the book focuses on this homecoming as the story comes together through a combination of memories and family interactions. This was the best section of the book for this reader. It is where the home becomes a character as much as the Matriarch and her children.

The book is a pleasure to read through the story of the family and the author's beautiful prose. The story about a family's desperate attempt to recover the relationships they've lost and forge the ones they never had becomes a profoundly moving work. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jun 23, 2017 |
Several days after completing this intense novel about the mostly unhappy members of the Madigan family--matriarch Rosaleen; her sons, Dan and Emmet; and daughters, Constance and Hanna--I find myself puzzling over them. Except for Constance, who has married well, and is clearly loved by husband and children, they are all so sad and disconnected. I find myself wondering what famed pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott would have made of the beautiful but brittle Rosaleen Considine, who married beneath her and whose great relationship in life appears to have been with her reflection in the mirror.

According to Robert Ades, who writes on Winnicott: "Once the infant knows the mother can reliably provide during the baby’s early state of complete dependence, it is through the bust-ups and bungles of being good-enough rather than perfect that the infant finds out about his own developing needs. The child discovers he is not within the suffocating realm of parental omniscience . . . " But what if there are no bust-ups and bungles, or none that are admitted to? Against Ades's words, Rosaleen is not a "good-enough" mother; she is a too-much mother, who demands perfection of herself and apparently of her children. Not surprisingly, she is endlessly dissatisfied. Impeccably groomed, quietly tyrannical, incapable of spontaneity, easily offended, her own childhood is said to be inaccessible to her until she reaches her sixties. When her adult children ask her to describe her own mother, she can only supply details of dress.

The first half of Enright's book provides each of the main characters with a long chapter to reveal his or her circumstances and dilemmas. Hanna's chapter, set when all of the children are still at home, focuses on a family meal at which Dan, the eldest son, announces plans to train for the priesthood. The priesthood is apparently code for being gay, and Dan's news sends his mother to bed for days on end. Constance's section focuses on her experiences as a patient being assessed in the mammography department of a city hospital. It reveals her intense sympathy for the marks of pain on others' bodies, and provides her reflections on the friends of her youth, who, unlike her, all pursued more exciting lives elsewhere. Both Dan's and Emmet's sections suggest that as adult men they have great difficulty connecting. Dan's chapter highlights a time in early adulthood when he is coming to terms with his sexual identity, still attached to his beautiful Irish girlfriend, Isabel, but frequently engaging in risky encounters with men. (A.I.D.S. has come to New York, and the members of the artsy crowd that Dan hangs out with are dropping like flies.) Apparently attracted to suffering, Emmet is doing humanitarian work in Africa. He is cynical and unreachable. The section that concerns him, his girlfriend Alice, and Mitch, the poor, stray dog she takes in, are heartbreaking--almost more than I could take at times. (I find it hard to view or read about the mute suffering of animals, and this section tested me.)

In the second half of Enright's book, set in 2005, the Madigans reunite for Christmas, as Rosaleen has been threatening to sell the family home. This is a tense affair that nevertheless allows the adult children to experience and respond to the vulnerability of their difficult mother--perhaps for the first time. As fractured as the family is, as broken as its members may be, they are still capable of acts of love.

Enright's novel is beautiful and intense. The characters are not always likeable, but Enright makes sure that the reader feels for them in their struggles. I will admit, however, that I occasionally wished for respite from the sadness. I think a sense of humour goes a long way (and provides psychological protection) in difficult families.

Thank you to my Goodreads friend Peter for advising me that The Green Road would be a good place to start with Enright. It was. ( )
  fountainoverflows | May 19, 2017 |
Lacked cohesiveness. ( )
  bigorangecat | Jan 24, 2017 |
This is a good book to read during the holiday season, as it's structured around a family (which sometimes gathers for Christmas and sometimes doesn't) and their struggles both with each other and with their lives outside the family. While not always heartwarming, many of the themes touched on would be familiar to those who struggle with older family members and younger ones who live at distance. ( )
1 vote wagner.sarah35 | Dec 30, 2016 |
I liked the first half and LOVED the second half when the kids are grown up and visit their mother on a Very Significant Christmas. Fantastic writing and characterization, especially Dan and Constance. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
The novel's form beautifully embodies its theme. Since it is concerned with breakages and splits, it begins by presenting us with one of Rosaleen's quarrelling children at a time, a chapter for each.
Enright withholds closure but doesn’t skimp on pleasure. Barely a page goes by without a striking phrase or insight. She convinces you of her setting, whether it’s west Africa or the East Village. The sons’ stories, unfolding farther afield, are story-driven; the energy in the daughters’ stories comes from the texture of experience (a supermarket run; half-cut on vodka).
The characters are so finely realised that they seem continuous: we feel the pressures on Emmet as coming from the long past, part of the air he breathes; we understand that the absence of all three of Constance’s siblings is an unspoken part of her homemaking; most extraordinary of all, we experience Dan’s gaps and distance as part of his character, his distance from himself. It is not much like a novel, but it is a lot like knowing people; an awful lot like being alive.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393248216, Hardcover)

A major new novel from the winner of the Man Booker Prize.

Spanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.

Ardeevin, County Clare, Ireland. 1980. When her oldest brother Dan announces he will enter the priesthood, young Hanna watches her mother howl in agony and retreat to her room. In the years that follow, the Madigan children leave one by one: Dan for the frenzy of New York under the shadow of AIDS; Constance for a hospital in Limerick, where petty antics follow simple tragedy; Emmet for the backlands of Mali, where he learns the fragility of love and order; and Hanna for modern-day Dublin and the trials of her own motherhood. When Christmas Day reunites the children under one roof, each confronts the terrible weight of family ties and the journey that brought them home. The Green Road is a major work of fiction about the battles we wage for family, faith, and love.

“Enright’s razor-sharp writing turns every ordinary detail into a weapon, to create a story that cuts right to the bone.”—New York Review of Books

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:15 -0400)

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