Anne Enright’s The Green Road is about the Madigan family with Rosaleen, the mother, at its center. The novel opens in 1980 with Rosaleen, her husband, and their four children at their home in Ardeevin, County Clare, Ireland. They are gathered around the table having a family meal when Dan, the eldest, announces his decision to become a priest. His mother greets the news by taking to her bed for several days—“the horizontal solution,” as her son, Dan, refers to it.
The novel follows the paths of the four siblings over a period of 25 years. Dan is in America struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality while experiencing the gay lifestyle in New York. His sister, Constance, is married with children, lives in the same town as her mother, and struggles to do the right thing and say the right thing to satisfy her mother. Emmet, the third child, is in Mali where he struggles to help a people plagued with disease, poverty, ignorance, and violence. Hanna, the youngest daughter, is a struggling actress, an alcoholic with a young baby. Their struggles are different but they all have in common their inability to forge meaningful connections with the significant others in their lives.
Enright captures the jealousies, resentments, petty squabbles, and rivalries of the four siblings, the seeds of which are apparent in their childhood and which continue to haunt them as adults. These tensions surface when they respond to a summons by their mother to gather for a reunion Christmas dinner in their childhood home. They walk through their childhood home where every nook and cranny, every fading piece of wallpaper, conjures up memories of a time long since past. We see the siblings talking at cross-purposes, misunderstanding each other, and raising past grievances.
At the center of the gathering is Rosaleen. Her children respond to her in different ways, but they all harbor a mixture of love and resentment toward her. She feels the same toward them—alternating between experiencing an overpowering love for them one minute and resentment the next. Enright’s gift lies in her ability to depict the inner life of her characters and to situate them in poignant, vivid scenes that tug at the heart. Her characters are fumbling in the dark, searching for meaning and connection.
The novel is about aging. It is about the things we leave behind and the baggage we carry with us as we journey through life. It is about realizing the bonds we formed in childhood with our siblings can be lost to us as adults. It is about recognizing one’s children may follow paths that lead them far from home in ways we can’t understand. And, finally, it is about fragile attempts to move forward and forge connections based on giving and receiving love.
A beautiful story told with unflinching honesty and sensitivity.