Friday, July 3, 2015

"The Green Road," by Anne Enright

I am sure readers share with me the excitement that we feel when we hear that one of our favorite authors has a new book out. We read reviews, we look for the book at bookstores or libraries, we eagerly look forward to having it in our hands, hoping and believing that it will be as good as or even better than the writer’s earlier books, and at the same time show us new aspects of the author’s repertoire and gifts. That is how I felt when I found out that Irish author Anne Enright had a new novel out, “The Green Road” (Norton, 2015). I loved her most well known novel, “The Gathering” (2007) and her short story collection, “Yesterday’s Weather” (2008), which I posted about here (9/6/11). I felt a little more ambivalent about her 2011 novel, “The Forgotten Waltz,” about which I posted on 11/11/11, but still wouldn’t have missed reading it. “The Green Road,” which I have just read, is at least as good as “The Gathering,” and shares some characteristics with that novel, as it too focuses on an Irish family which has dispersed and then gathers back home during a time of family crisis. In this case, the family home is in County Clare, and consists of a widow, Rosaleen, and her four grown children, along with their various spouses, lovers, and children. One daughter, Constance, lives nearby and is the classic “responsible one.” Another, Hanna, is an alcoholic and a new mother, and lives in Dublin. One brother, Dan, is a gay “spoilt priest” (which must be an Irish term – it means he studied toward being a priest but at some point gave it up) who fled to North America to be far away from his family; he has lived in New York during the 1980s and lost many friends and lovers to AIDS, but he now lives in a settled relationship in Toronto. The other brother, Emmet, has spent most of his adult life working for various charities and NGOs all over the world; the country that is focused on here is Mali. In the first half of the book, each family member gets her or his own chapter of backstory; in the second half, they all come to the family home for what may be their last Christmas there, as Rosaleen is threatening to sell the family home. All four of the children love their mother, but have deeply ambivalent feelings about her. She loves them too, but most of the time manages to make them feel inadequate and somehow in the wrong. Enright’s depiction of these uneasy, painful relationships and interactions is masterful, and frustrating even to read about. She manages to make readers understand and believe both aspects: the love and the unhappiness in their relationships. Each of the main characters (and some of the minor ones as well) is distinct and compelling, but the portrayal of Rosaleen is Enright’s greatest achievement here. The particular Irish small town and countryside settings are essential to the story as well, described with deep understanding and sharp details. The writing is authoritative and just plain splendid at times. I kept turning down corners in my copy. Two of many possible vivid examples: “Constance…did not mind walking through the sportings of rain, pulling the sky into her lungs. Sipping at the world.” (p. 101). “Beauty, in glimpses and flashes, that is what the soul required. That was the drop of water on the tongue.” (p. 165). The last chapter is titled “Paying Attention,” and that is what Enright does in all of her writing. We the readers are the fortunate beneficiaries.
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