Almost in time for Mother’s Day, Anne Enright delivers a classic Irish mother. Rosaleen Madigan has a propensity for “going horizontal” when any of her four children disappoint her and they do so regularly. As the book opens, her elder son Dan sends her to her bed by announcing he has decided to become a priest.
If you have read Edna O’Brien, Frank McCourt, Tana French, or Enright’s previous novels, you are familiar with the Irish family. Beginning to read The Green Road, I felt I was in known territory and wondered how she would get away with yet another dysfunctional Irish family story.
The Green Road is an actual road that begins where the pavement ends in the Burren, a wild and rock covered landscape in County Clare with tiny wildflowers growing between the stones and a view of the sea. The book’s cover displays a haunting bluish tinted photo of the Burren on a cold and cloudy day.
After a Christmas gathering with her children, requested by Rosaleen because she wants to sell the family home, this widow who married beneath her in a “love match” is so filled with despair that she creates her most dramatic moment yet during an after dinner walk on the Green Road.
Across fifty years of Irish life and right up to the present, that ancient country and the Madigans have experienced as much change as anywhere else on earth but the Irish soul lives on in Rosaleen. The incipient priest has found his way out of the closet via New York City and discovers love in Toronto. Constance, the elder daughter married up in the days of the Celtic Tiger, while Emmet headed to West Africa hoping to help combat poverty and illness.
Hanna, the baby of the family lands in Dublin with her own baby and a shattered acting career. Rosaleen is not a drinker but Hanna takes up that torch.
By the end I had seen how Anne Enright did take the Irish family story up another notch. She streamlined the angst, tightened the prose, and added wry scenes of comedy. She gave us characters who show each other to us without herself telling us much about them. That itself is a feat of a great writer. As I walked around still in her world for a few days it became apparent that the soul of any country lives on down through its generations and its wanderings. How lovely is the way she captured that for her readers.
The Green Road by Anne Enright will be published by W.W. Norton on May 11th.