The Green Road by Anne Enright
Is it always the mother’s fault? Her fault if her adult children just cannot make a good life for themselves? Her fault if even in late middle age they are mired in unhappiness and angst? Well maybe, but maybe not. What about self control and using your own incentive and will power to make your life your own? What about saying you’ll not be a victim to whatever it is about your childhood you are still dragging around with you damaging your relationships well into old age.
Well, I have just finished reading The Green Road by Anne Enright. And I’ve not been fit to live with – I couldn’t fall asleep after finishing it late one night – couldn’t stop thinking of these characters and thinking about real people – myself and my children. Feeling sad for the characters peopling The Green Road and thinking of two other books I read recently The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer and The Blessings by Elise Juska. All of these novels examine a family – and the children and their mothers. And I wonder. I know that the “formative years” are just that– we are “formed” during those childhood years - we watch children soak up the world around them, and they are soaking up what they see of their parents behavior, how they speak to each other, how they interact, how each child is treated. One may seem to be always the favourite, another always to blame – we all know how this works among siblings.
So – The Green Road. Anne Enright is one of those British Writers who could write drivel and it would still be worth reading – but she does not write drivel – her novels are exquisite volumes, beautifully written, insightful and often disturbing. The Green Road follows the Madigan family – the father who barely plays a part, the mother Rosaleen, and the four children. A small Irish Catholic family.
“The parents sat at either end of the table, the children along both sides. Girls facing the window, boys facing the room: Constance-and-Hanna, Emmett-and-Dan.”
Rosaleen has always been what might be called an hysterical mother – reacting with great drama to any and all of the exploits of her children. Constance as the eldest, and a daughter, bears the brunt of it on a day to day basis, at home and later as a wife and mother living nearby. Dan, the eldest son, is closest to this mother. Dan at first causes a commotion by declaring he will become a Priest – but instead leaves for New York where he chooses a slightly different option. Emmett escapes to Africa where he is an aid worker – as far from his mother and his siblings as he can get? Hanna, the baby of the family, finds comfort and escape with a bottle – or two – or three.
We meet this family in 1980 when Hanna is a magical twelve years old and do not leave them until 2005, the year they are all together for Christmas for the first time in decades. They are well grown up and one might think they were over their mother. But they are not.
A sad book, a difficult book, but really, really brilliant. Sleepless maybe, but glad I’ve read The Green Road.