In the centre of an unnamed place on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast is Rosaleen Madigan – a difficult, wonderful, captivating, widow in her early middle age. When she announces she’s going to sell the family house, from the far flung corners of the globe her four children come home, each one with trailing their past behind them, their secrets and their desires, for a family Christmas.
Where Enright’s Man Booker winning novel (2007), The Gathering, was a tragic tale, the crisis in The Green Road is far less dramatic. The family Christmas is just the simple accumulation of the four Madigan children’s lives, revolving around their mother. Plot is not the point of The Green Road, and in fact, Enright has said she doesn’t do plot, rather she does story. Story is insight. The ‘story’ of The Green Road is what happens when you bring a family filled with imperfect people, who probably don’t like each other very much, back together after so much time, forcing them to rework and perhaps even resolve hurts of old.
Skilfully unfolded over a series of chapters spanning decades, dedicated to each child in turn, we see the family in hints and glimpses, each character refracted by the others gaze. This is not about explosive family secrets as the small unbearable hurts and loves that accumulate to make a family life.
It also pays homage to mothers, despite our difficulty or inability to really grasp them. It’s about the deep bottomless need for our mothers that lingers into adulthood, regardless of how much we like or dislike them.
As the newly appointed Laureate for Irish Fiction, Enright is a stunning writer. For anyone that’s read her work that goes without saying. Her prose is both lyrical and searing. Her ability for knowing, and succinctly portraying the human heart is captivating.
The Green Road is a portrayal of a life in all its nuanced imperfections. Full of the selflessness and compassion of what it means to be love your family. It’s a rich book by an exquisite writer at the height of her powers.