Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunday Book: The Green Road by Anne Enright


This has been on my bedside table ever since it came out in paperback, waiting for the right moment.  I tend to read non-fiction when I'm writing fiction and novels when I'm writing non-fiction. I've been deep into The Green Road this week.  I love Anne Enright's way with words, the spare, laconic dialogue that says only as much as you need to know about the characters' emotional states and their relationships with each other.  I love the metaphors and the images - always used sparingly and never wasted.  This is Rosaleen trying to describe the fragmentation of her own mind.  She feels as though she is wearing someone else's coat and living in someone else's house:

'Rosaleen was living in the wrong house, with the wrong colours on the walls, and no telling any more what the right colour might be, even though she had chosen them herself and liked them and lived with them for years.  And where could you put yourself:  if you could not feel at home in your own home?  If the world turned into a series of lines and shapes, with nothing in the pattern to remind you what it was for.'

The family story is told in a series of episodes across several decades, each one centering on a different member of the family.  It's an interesting structure that presents a fascinating portrait of the Madigans and their journey towards independent lives. There is Hanna, the youngest daughter, sensitive as an open wound; Dan, the eldest son, struggling with the call of religion and his own sexuality;  Emmet expiates his guilt by becoming a charity worker, using his work to escape irksome family ties;  Constance, the eldest, feels most responsibility for her manipulative, self-involved mother and dreams of escape.

And then there is the narrow, green road to Boolavaun, their father's old home where their grandmother lives without any modern conveniences and wrings the necks of chickens for their Sunday dinner.  It symbolises their roots, which are always trying to draw them down despite their mother's ambitions. She is a Considine, a cut above the Madigans she married into.

Anne Enright was made Irish Laureate in 2015, based in University College Dublin
It's a very Irish novel, set in an Ireland already feeling the push and pull of Europe's Celtic Tiger. Everyone is out to make a quick Euro, but the old Ireland is still there underneath threatening to undermine it all. The legacies of conflict, of famine and separation, the influence of the Catholic church are only just beneath the skin.  They're never specifically mentioned, but are a given - the sub-text of everyone's lives.

In the second half of the novel, Rosaleen summons them all home for Christmas for a reunion that will be as momentous and difficult as they anticipate.  It is beautifully written to the very last word; prose that rolls around in your mind, echoing in your ear, as the flavour of a particularly delicious meal, eaten slowly, lingers on the taste buds.

The Green Road
by Anne Enright

Penguin Random House UK





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