book review: The Green Road by Anne Enright

The backstory: I've previously read and enjoyed Anne Enright's fiction (my review of The Forgotten Waltz) and nonfiction (my review of Making Babies.) Update: The Green Road has been longlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize. Update: It has also been longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Prize.

The basics: The Green Road is the story of Rosaleen Madigan and her children. It begins in 1980 with the shock of Dan declaring he's becoming a priest. We spend time with each of the four Madigan children (plus Rosaleen) in different cities (and countries) in a different year before they each come home for a holiday.

My thoughts: In some ways, the first five parts of The Green Road would work as stand-alone short stories. There are some references to the family, but Enright lets us get to know each character individually. Oddly, my least favorite section was Hanna's, which comes first, and Hanna is the character I felt like I knew the least about in the first half of the book. Still, Enright's writing shines:
"The darkness of the theatre was a new kind of darkness for Hanna. It was not the kind of darkness of the city outside, or of the bedroom she shared with Constance at home in Ardeevin. It was not the black country darkness of Boolavaun. It was the darkness between people: between Isabelle and Dan, between Dan and the priests. It was the darkness of sleep, just before the dream."
I won't tell you where each of the Madigan children spend their stand-alone chapters, as seeing where and when they are, as well as what they're doing, is part of the fun. When the novel brings the family back together again, it felt like I was part of the family reuniting. Seeing these characters, all of whom I knew so well, interact together added depth to their individual stories while also advancing the larger story.

As an American reader, I was also struck that Irish readers may interpret this novel differently than I did. It's certainly a global story, but for me, it is the story of one fascinating family. I suspect it might also be powerful cultural commentary on Ireland. I'll be seeking out Irish reviews of this novel to test my theory.

Favorite passage: "Because death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Everyone dies. It's the timing that matters. The first and second of it. The order in which we go."

The verdict: The Green Road is an accomplished, engaging novel. Enright's writing is luminous--it's filled with wisdom about life and her characters. As I read, it was clear I was reading a masterpiece. I'll be cheering for this book to find a spot on the Booker Prize longlist this year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: May 11, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Green Road from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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  1. Great review! I've loved the Enright books I've read, and have just started this one (finished Hannah's section) I was ready to scan the review, but you said just the right amount and now I can't wait to sit in tonight and get through another section. Yay!

  2. That quote got me thinking! Sounds very good.


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