Bookclub Review of The Green Road, Anne Enright ( June 2021)
Okay. Full confession here. I don’t like Anne Enright. I know this narrow-minded view is based on just three watched / listened interviews, mere snippets of the woman’s character, but having now discussed The Green Road with my enlightened readers, I have realised something new. I can still admire her as a writer. I can observe and engage with her characters without having to reduce myself to a like or dislike option, both for her and her book people. And as one pertinent reader observed, sometimes it’s quite nice to finish a book and leave them all behind!
She does ‘do’ people in a very clever way. Given her relatively slow output of novels – about every five years, albeit with a lot of magazine and interview work in between – one can assume that her words are carefully edited. At times the prose is sublimely clever, witty and sharp.
In our scoring system, this book only received one 5/5 and that was interestingly for someone reading it a second time, perhaps with a more objective look rather than seeking to find some emotional engagement with the story. Most of us landed on a 3.5/4 – admiration rather than affection?! But if you’re looking for warmth, it’s a 1.
Enright has publicly talked about her desire to remove the ‘sacred’ image of the mother in Irish literature – and her Rosaleen certainly does that. A woman who “takes the horizontal solution” to many a problem and who ‘married beneath her’ in her own opinion, is a breath-taking lesson in selfishness and what damage that can do to a family. Her final showdown, of walking out from the family dinner table, left many of us staggered. Is there a message from the writer – or is it just another thoughtless move from Rosaleen?
Some of the dynamics between Rosaleen and the four children were interesting to observe, if a little disturbing. Do Irish mothers just adore their sons and dislike their daughters? It seemed the boys could get on with their lives, albeit in a fairly cold- hearted way, whilst the daughters yearn for approval. Enright is the master of portraying something, without saying it, so we are left to fill in the gaps with our own thoughts about what is actually going on in their minds.
The setting on the west of Ireland felt appropriate and illustrative, a good novel to recommend for anyone heading that way on their holidays. It felt quite visual, and would translate into a powerful film or play. There were dramatically tense moments around the dining table, in the claustrophobic setting of the family home. And just in case you’ve forgotten, the word of the month is “aphorism” – an attempt to condense all of life’s mystery into a pure, gemlike line. Enright works hard at this - and succeeds.