THE GREEN ROAD by Anne Enright
Tension leads to suspense. But suspense doesn’t ensure the reader will remember what the book is about a year, or even six months later. Curiosity—however—that desperate need to know how the heck all the pieces of the story will fuse together, will keep a reader locked-in and nudge him to ponder the essence of the story long after he reaches the end. Anne Enright’s The Green Road is for readers who love the state of heightened curiosity.
I bought Enright’s novel from Dubray Books in Dublin, Ireland after reading the back cover.
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.
I envisioned tongue-lashing dialogue in between food fights, and siblings manipulating each other for a bigger piece of the homestead. What I found was more fascinating. The invitations for Christmas, which include the announcement for the sale of the house, aren’t officially sent until the halfway point. And another sixty pages are used to assemble the family.
While organizing my notes I contemplated Enright’s pacing and asked, Would The Green Road fall in the category of a quiet novel?
In quiet novels, the hero’s journey is usually an interior one, and the character is changed by the world, rather than going out and changing the world.—Forest Avenue Press
Others may disagree but I say, No. What this 2007 Man Booker Prize Winner has done is compose a compelling and disturbing tale about a dysfunctional family through a meticulous focus on Character.
The dysfunction of the family stems first from the uniqueness of each of the members, and Enright wastes not time in establishing who is who. Each Madigan possesses a distinct voice, rhythm and POV impossible to interchange.
“Yeah,” said Hanna. Who was fed up of people talking about some tiny flower like it was amazing. And fed up of people talking about the view of the Aran Islands and the Flagging fucking shore.
Distinct voices and point of view are essential for igniting conflict, but what prevents the Madigans from bonding is their keen awareness of each other’s differences.
…the last time they met—it must have been 2000—a year when Constance no longer recognized her own reflection coming at her from the shop window and Dan was looking better than ever. She did not know how he managed it. Constance actually thought there might be make-up involved; or Botox perhaps. It was as though the light had a choice, and it still chose him.
The siblings’ differences set them adrift to pursue what they hope will be fulfilling lives, but their unrealistic intentions and expectations end up perpetuating an epidemic of disappointment that adds to their disconnect.
Emmet fell in love with a child in Cambodia, his first year out. He spent long nights planning her future, because the feel of her little hand in his drove him pure mad: he thought if he could save this one child, then Cambodia would make sense.
Their dissatisfactions morph into a relentless restlessness until even the simplest task is impossible to accomplish.
And it was true that Dan stalled in the shop if he was ever obliged to buy a gift. Stalled, refused, could not calculate, drew a blank, was a blank. Walked away, as though from something terrible and, by the skin of his teeth, survived.
The care with which Enright bares the unspeakable flaws of Hanna, Constance, Emmet and Dan allows us to see how fragile they are. So we, in turn, take care and offer our patience as their story unfolds. Then on Christmas Day all the pieces fuse, because as fragmented as these siblings are they are bound forever by the ineffectiveness of their mother.
This maddening woman, she spent her entire life requiring things of other people and blaming other people, she lived in a state of hope or regret and she would not, could not, deal with the thing that was in front of her, whatever it was. Oh, I forgot to go to the bank, Constance, I forgot to go to the post office. She could not deal with stuff. Money. Details. Here. Now.
On the surface The Green Road appears to be much ado about nothing, but thanks to the conscientious attention to Character the lives of the Madigans end up touching on the everything of life. And the curiosity, which fuels the readers journey, lingers on.