Anne Enright is by no means new to the Irish literary scene, but with each new publication, she moves a step closer to cementing herself as one of the best writers the country has to offer. Her 2007 novel, The Gathering, brought her international recognition, winning her the Man Booker Prize. Previous releases have gained her rightful acclaim in Ireland, with awards such as the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Irish Novel of the Year to her name.
Her latest publication, The Green Road, is a work bursting with nostalgia. She returns to the familiar theme of family relations, exploring and capturing these with an extraordinary level of confidence and honesty. For anyone (and if there is someone out there, I’ll buy you a pint) who has been following these series of literary reviews, this novel, while humorous and witty in parts, does not develop at the same pace as the previous two works reviews. Instead, the novel takes its time and in doing so, demonstrates Enright’s exceptional skill with prose, as well as her clear talent in providing detailed insight into the family dynamics of her fictional family, The Madigans.
What I found particularly exciting reading this novel was her ability to capture the life and habits of Irish lifestyles in any setting, and in an unashamed and brutally honest manner. While the novel transports the readers to different countries and social surroundings through each of the five main characters, it remains at the heart, an Irish novel. Rosaleen, the matriarch, is not only head of the family but is also the focus point of the book, almost as if by her own doing. While The Green Road is split into two sections, almost the entirety of the segment ‘Coming Home’ is focused around a difficult and troubled Rosaleen who, along with other issues, is struggling to cope with a crippling sense of isolation as she edges closer to old age.
The variety of issues explored throughout the novel are fascinating, and I found with each character, Enright addressed a different element of the Irish psyche. Between all the family members, she explores issues of alcoholism, mental illness, homosexuality, lack of empathy and isolation. What is even more impressive about this is how she succeeds in doing so without succumbing to creating stereotypes. Instead, she develops fleshed out and entirely relatable characters. Elements of the novel could be mistaken as a memoir, and the sense of realism she brings to the family is captivating.
In a tale featuring an exciting and varied selection of locations and settings, what truly becomes clear is a sense of homeliness, while often tied to a specific place, is more reliant on the people within it. Without those, the ethos of a family space is incomplete and the absence of these can have damaging effects, as Enright so chillingly describes. The closing scenes emphasise more than ever that while family can be forgiving, the physical place of home can be as threatening and dangerous as any stranger, leaving lasting impacts. James Holohan