The Green Road: Shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016
By Anne Enright, and
A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.
The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.
Anne Enright is addicted to the truth of things. Sentence by sentence, there are few writers alive who can invest the language with such torque and gleam, such wit and longing – who can write dialogue that speaks itself aloud, who can show us the million splinters of her characters’ lives then pull them back up together again, into a perfect glass.Tweet
I surprised myself by quite how much I liked this book. My only previous experience of Anne Enright's writing was The Gathering (when the book group shadowed the Man Booker Prize) and let's just say I had not planned to read another!
However, from the first page I was drawn into this story of a family in County Clare, especially with the wonderful opening of a mother who takes to her bed at times of trouble and does not spare her children from the full gamut of her emotions.
I enjoyed the way each chapter in Part One focused on a different member of the family, although it was something of a shock to move suddenly from Ireland to AIDS-era New York and then on to other parts of the world. However, the contrast between different individuals and different time periods gave a really good insight into the different characters in their separate lives, thereby making the drawing together in Part Two more intriguing.
Every character was well drawn and it didn't matter that none of them were particularly likeable. I still wanted to know the details of their lives and to discover how their lives had shaped them.
I found Part Two a little less engaging than Part One, but the stifling nature of the family unit came across very clearly, as did Constance's important stabilising role in the family.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to others as a fascinating insight into a fairly dysfunctional family.
Gloucester Lit Lovers and Yummy Scrummy Pudding Club review.
The Gloucester Lit Lovers don't make a habit of agreeing on how much we like a book, and The Green Road was no exception. It always makes for an interesting book club meeting when we all want something different from a book.
There were parts of The Green Road that we all agreed were brilliant, funny, touching, powerful and shocking. Some of the Lit Lovers like a plot driven book and struggle with stories that observe a life, a family, or relationships. They particularly wanted more from the end of the book, with more detail on how the Christmas had changed the key characters. Others liked the implied changes evident in the final chapters.
The historic glimpse of the lives of the family members were interesting and often moving. The power Rosaleen held over her children ran through the book, and the impact this had on them was well conveyed. The Lit Lovers enjoyed the individual stories, and understood the dysfunction that was evident. This was a story about a damaged Mother wanting to be loved by her children, but unable to give love, of competition between the siblings, and a trail of damaged relationships.
The historic context of Ireland at different stages of the book was fascinating. The descriptions of 19890’s New York we brave, well written and very powerful. We loved the ‘Irishness’ of the writing and we all related to the Christmas supermarket shop.
We always score a book out of 10, and the Green Road was given 2 x 8, 3 x 6, 3 x 5 and 1 x 4. An average of 6 out of 10.
Our reading group enjoyed this book very much. It came as a surprise to many of us, as we had read The Gathering by the same author some years ago and had really struggled with that one. This was, however, a completely different reading experience.
This is a story about a believable family. We see the characters of the four children at different ages, each living very different lives, but constantly affected by their mother and her attitude to them. It is a family which diverges in the first half of the book, only to converge in the second half but never truly to meet. The character of Rosaleen, the mother, is the over-riding, manipulative matriarch who knows just how to control her children, so that she becomes the centre of all their attention, even though their own lives are demanding and far more dramatic than hers has ever been. Her tragedy is that she doesn't know how to love them.
There is great humour in the book, and acute character observation. The language conveys images of place and of actions with an immediacy and clarity that makes you believe you are right there with the characters and can celebrate or grieve with them in their circumstances.
We have given this book a mark of four stars out of five.