“The Green Road” begins in what feels like familiar territory for Anne Enright. A girl in rural Ireland experiences the tension in her household as her brother Dan declares he's going to become a priest and her mother Rosaleen retreats to her bedroom in a rage. This and a later scene that follows a world-weary older woman sitting alone in a big house looking out upon the landscape are poignant and beautifully-written characters. However, having read Enright's novels before, it's the kind of Irish character and atmosphere that I'd expect to find in a novel by her. BUT the novel then switches into an entirely different setting and group of characters which surprised and thrilled me. Progressing forward in time the story follows four siblings who take very different paths in life. Enright effectively and meaningfully portrays the lives of a closeted man in New York City when AIDS had a devastating effect upon the gay community in the early 90s, an embittered mother frightened she might have cancer, an aide worker in impoverished Mali and an alcoholic actress/young mother. This is a novel that has an astonishing scope. Using a unique form and range of voices, it comes together to say something brilliantly effective about the resilience of family no matter how dispersed they may become.
Although the family portrayed in this novel are very unique, Enright's special talent as a writer is making you feel as if they are your own or that you've lived alongside them their whole lives. The reader is only given snippets of each of their stories yet they have that familiarity which makes you care about them and understand their point of view. Each has their own faults and hopes and private miseries. Their observations range from the most painfully existential “How long would she have to continue, being like this. Being herself” to humorous observations about beauty and ageing “She never lost it. From a distance, if you keep the hump out of your back, you might be any age at all.” When they finally come together in the later part of the novel you are aware of the gravity of all their individual struggles while they interact with each other. It made me totally gripped to see how their stories would play out because their presence together felt so immediately real.
“The Green Road” takes an unusual stance on the property crash in Ireland. Rosaleen summons her four children together to spend Christmas in her house in order for the family to say goodbye to the place before she sells it amidst the ridiculous inflation in housing prices. Enright writes that “The truth was that the house they were sitting in was worth a ridiculous amount, and the people sitting in it were worth very little.” Of course, the author doesn't really believe that. What she's suggesting is that each sibling has failed to achieve their ambitions in casting themselves out into the world. Whereas, ironically, the house has sat there all the time in its same semi-dilapidated state and acquired tremendous worth. It makes you wonder if once you find a place where you feel completely content, a known road which feels like the most beautiful in the world, is there any point seeking more in life? This is a stunning and profound novel that I absolutely loved reading.