Title: The Green Road
Author: Anne Enright
Year published: 2015
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Genre: Literary fiction
Should you read this? A resounding YES, especially if you like character-driven novels and/or have a sibling. Anne Enright basically taught Sally Rooney how to be Sally Rooney.
The Green Road by Anne Enright is a book that I boldly claimed was one of the ten best books I have ever read, and because I said it in front of so many people, I’m going to have to stick to that assertion forever. While I’m not sure what the ten best books I’ve ever read actually are, it’s not inconceivable that this could be one of them. It’s rare to come across an author whose prose is so lyrical, yet so precise; the kind of author who can describe the most intangible experience so deftly as to make readers think, ‘oh my God, she’s right, that is exactly what that feels like!’.
The novel is ostensibly about the reunion of a fictional family called Madigan, but the first half of the book deals with each of the four children in turn. We see them first in childhood, and then as adults, by which time each of the siblings seems to lead a life very separate from the other three, rarely (if ever) crossing paths. Each of these first chapters could stand alone as a short story, and although I liked the whole book, I found that I enjoyed the first half significantly more than the second half where the characters are brought together in a Christmas reunion. Although it is the premise of the entire book, the reunion almost feels like an unnecessary addition tacked on to the end.
Each of these chapters is a deep dive into a character’s life and psyche at a given moment or period. There are huge jumps in time that leave the reader wondering what happened, how they got from the place we left them to the place we find them now: Dan was all set to become a priest in Ireland, so how do we now find him in New York in the 90s, insisting that he loves his fiancee while sleeping with men? (My favourite section, by the way, and a masterful execution of evoking a certain place at a certain time, so nostalgic that I miss it even though I was never there. As a reader, you might enjoy imagining the sequence of events that preceded; equally, you might find it frustrating and consider it to be lazy writing. That’s up to you.
Ultimately, the book is about family dynamics and the space between what is said and what is meant. I found it endlessly interesting to see the kinds of people that the siblings become, and the ways in which their role within the family damaged each differently – being one of four myself, I can strongly relate to some of the themes. Having said that, Enright describes her characters so well as to make them real people, universal in their uniqueness, and almost everyone will be able to find something they relate to or recognise in one of the four children, their mother, or a small ensemble of supporting characters.