The Green Road, by Anne Enright, is another excellent summer release, written by the outstanding Irish novelist Anne Enright, whose earlier novel, The Gathering, won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction. Yes, a plethora of Irish novelists are about, and their famous ‘gift for gab’ is manifest all round (Colm Toibin may well be one of the ten most gifted living fiction writers; The Master, his novel about Henry James, is one of the finest offerings in fiction in the past decade, and his most recent novel, The Testament of Mary, a slim but immensely creative and pithy meditation on what might have gone on in The Virgin Mary’s mind leading up to and right after The Crucifixion , was also made into a play. It’s one of the most creative and fascinating ideas in all of contemporary fiction, and includes Mary’s near captivity by Jesus’s disciples, eager to write what’d become The Gospels (Mary still prays to the old Greco- Roman gods and goddesses). My point is that there’s an explosion of Irish writing talent, and it’s a great joy to serious readers; Edna O’Brien, Ireland’s premier fiction writer, has just brought out what may be her last large book of short stories, too; if you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s another poet in prose, and she’s been combining the erotic underpinnings of young women in small Irish villages with the beauty of the Irish landscape and its tragic histories for decades. Anne Enright’s the latest great Irish writer.
The Green Road really is the name of a road in rural Ireland. In the novel by the same name, Enright presents another Irish family saga (the Irish seem to have a special bent for this type of genre writing), in which four completely different children are reared mainly by a widowed mother, but she has money of her own, so no one’s suffering from want—other than psychological. The children vary wildly in temperament; one will become an actress with a husband and baby, and she’s also alcoholic; the ‘favored’ oldest son originally was drawn to the priesthood—and his mother’s horror at such a ‘career’ is splendidly described in the novel. This son will turn out to be gay when he goes to America, and his ongoing ambivalence about his sexuality—guilt, in particular—is brilliantly and astutely rendered by Enright. He insists on marrying, and the descriptions of his sneaking around for sex with men is exceptionally well delineated. The other children are equally well rendered and all art strong characters.
They all avoid going home, though one lives nearby the mother, and she is the one who constantly looks after her needs, at some expense to herself and to her marriage. But all four children decide to come home for one last Christmas, as their mother has determined to sell the family home, and they all want to see it/come together one last time (or they are ambivalent about same, but all will show up). Their mother is a strong character, indeed, highly critical of her children, and all the makings for the classic Christmas dinner disaster are in the makings, when the mother vanishes during dinner. Much of the last third of the book is taken up with finding her (on the green road of her youth), and during the search all four children have their first glimmerings as adults about how much this mother really does matter to them, as they alter their perceptions of her from those of children to those of adults: these observations are amongst Enright’s most sophisticated, as anyone who’s been lucky enough to get to know their parents as adults will understand this very fertile territory in this novel. And , as always, the Irish land/landscape is the unnamed character in the novel, as it so often is in Irish fiction. Ireland really is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, and the draw of the land for all those who stay and for those who leave is endlessly strong, a field force of energy luring all back.
Enright’s understanding of the ambivalences within families, and how grown children fall right back into whatever their primary roles were as children, particularly vis-à-vis their mother, is very astute, very mature, and very appealing. The children also very reluctantly begin to accept one another as siblings, rather than as adjuncts of their mother: Enright’s a great psychologist of family dynamics, and this novel is increasingly powerful as it heads towards the Christmas denouement. And Enright also writes with a restrained anger, which is most appealing.