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A Review of The Green Road by Anne Enright


Man Booker Prize winner, Anne Enright explores family dynamics in her latest book, and it is not all smooth sailing. Before Rosaleen, the matriarch, sells the family home, the Madigan family reunite for one last Christmas.  Her children, Dan, Constance, Emmet and Hanna find memories clash with modern-day reality.

Importantly, Enright divides the book into two sections.  The first half of the book gives a chapter to each child and their mother.  It provides a character taster with each person presented as a unique individual before they all get together in the second half called “Coming Home” when their sense of individuality is lost and they become a collective group of Madigans.

What Enright does well is to microscopically scrutinise the Madrigans’ relationship with one another. Back in the family home Hanna, Constance, Dan and Emmet revert back to their childhood behaviour patterns: Hanna, although a young mother and functioning alcoholic, still acts like a surely, attention-seeking teenager, Constance still plays substitute mother, Dan shares a continuing intimacy with their mother that alienates the others and Emmet continues to be the misunderstood outsider.  There is a jockeying for position for their mother’s attention, as well as eye-ball rolling at their mother’s behaviour combined with a constant shifting of sibling allegiances and rivalry that would put the shenanigans of modern-day politicians in the shade.

With each child you feel there is a reluctance at heart to return home — an indecisiveness.  The two brothers, Dan and Emmet, have emigrated to New York and Mali respectively.  Abroad they have become the person they wish to be rather than a person whom if they had stayed in Ireland would have suffocated from the moral restraints of small-town provincialism.   It is interesting to note that apart from Constance, whose husband is a local, the other siblings don’t invite their partners to the Christmas gathering.   As Emmet says to his roommate “I cannot invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad”.  When they do return, they return out of a sense of familial duty because, however unwillingly, they belong.

The sense of belonging is down to the mother Rosaleen, a flawed character, who is full of charm, ineffectual and self-absorbed.  We are first introduced to Rosaleen in Hanna’s story.  Hearing Dan is joining the priesthood, Rosaleen sulks in her bed for a couple of days, released from the spell when Hanna tells her Dan has a girlfriend. She uses her children to reflect her own status and in this respect she is overly concerned with their “failure, money, sex, drink”, wondering why her children have been less successful than her neighbours’ children.  This frustration with life, due to her passivity, has left her in her twilight years feeling resentful. Selling the family home is the most proactive decision she has ever made; an affirmative action that has come too late in life.

While Enright’s steely eye is fully focused on the Madrigans, she doesn’t fail to neglect relevant Irish themes that bubble away in the background.  References to the Celtic Tiger property boom is peppered throughout the novel, culminating in a pub scene row between Emmet and the “minting it” property developers the McGraths.  Enright astutely notes how money can perceive to shift status in a small community, especially between these two local families.   This combined with the impact of Irish emigration and small-town parochialism adds to the novel’s many layers.  You’ll discover it is more than a story about family.

Written by Rachel Boser

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