Another novel that has been on my TBR list for several years is The Green Road (Penguin Random House Vintage 2015) by the amazing writer Anne Enright, author of The Gathering. Enright’s work is an outstanding example of the style of writing done so well by contemporary Irish writers – a deep dive into human relationships, family dynamics and self-reflection. Her characterisations are intimate portraits that are completely engaging. The story is a family saga that swings between dark comedy and moving tenderness.
Rosaleen has decided to sell the family home and, against tradition, all four of her children have agreed to make one last pilgrimage back to the scene of their childhood for a final Christmas celebration. We are treated to a long chapter from the perspective of each of the four now adults – Hanna, Dan, Constance and Emmet, and their mother Rosaleen – as they remember their childhoods and reflect on where they are in their lives currently. The second half of the book recounts the period when they all return ‘home’. Silences, unspoken regrets, betrayals, childhood feuds, divided loyalties and unrequited ambitions bloom. The whole idea of Rosaleen selling the home and what might happen to her afterwards causes each of the adult children to open up more than they usually would, and to say things previously left unsaid. It becomes obvious that Rosaleen doesn’t quite know how to love her own children, each of whom is a disappointment to her in some way, and in turn, they each have trouble dealing with the eccentricities of their mother. And when she enacts one last great act of revenge, it forces them to confront the realities of the past and to contemplate the Green Road that has brought them all home.
Moving from 1980 to 1991, 1997, 2002 and finally 2005, the story shifts across continents but ends up in the Irish countryside, where it all began. The writing is luminous and sparkling with wit, wry humour, sharp dialogue, evocative description and characterisations so good that by the end of the novel, we feel we know each of these people personally. And Enright’s depiction of family is unrivalled; the grief, the memories, the uncertainties, the loyalties, the sacrifice, the resentments, the expectations, the misunderstandings and the forgiveness are all closely and thoroughly portrayed. A remarkable novel.