The Green Road by Anne Enright – Baileys shortlist 2016

Review published on July 30, 2015.

We’re in familiar territory with Enright’s latest novel – family tensions, squabbling, misunderstandings, conflicts and loss – and for me it was her most enjoyable novel to date. I don’t usually like her work, finding it too obsessed with sex and over-the-top emotion, but here she seems to approach her characters with more empathy and insight than usual.

The story centres around Rosaleen Madigan, matriarch and difficult mother par excellence. Her four children gather for one last Christmas in the family home before Rosaleen threatens to sell it. Each child has forged their own individual path in life, and Enright traces that path in chapters dedicated to each one of them. Rosaleen herself is a deeply unpleasant character but the children are far more sympathetic if also flawed. I found Dan’s trajectory the least satisfactory as we see him as part of the gay sub-culture at the height of the AIDS crisis and the gay characters come across as rather clichéd and stereotyped.

For me the most compelling character was Constance, the dutiful daughter who stays home in Ireland and bears the brunt of her mother’s caprices. The dialogue is usually convincing, particularly in the scenes set in Ireland, and often witty, and Enright shows real insight and perception when it comes to family relationships. It’s a well-structured and well-paced narrative, and the gradual reveal of each child’s trajectory leads to a satisfying and well-timed (if a little melodramatic) climax. All in all I found the book engaging and immensely readable, and I’ll certainly now be less reluctant to pick up any future novel by this acclaimed Irish author.

Mandy Jenkinson

The Green Road by Anne Enright is published in hbk by Jonathan Cape on May 7, 2015

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