cover image The Green Road

The Green Road

Anne Enright. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-24821-0

The eponymous road of Enright’s flawless novel is in County Clare in Ireland, running from the impoverished farm of handsome Pat Madigan in Boolavaun, to a house called Ardeevin, where he wooed Rosaleen Considine, daughter of the town’s leading family. Pat and Rosaleen marry and have four children. A volatile drama queen, Rosaleen is the fulcrum about which her children warily move. Even as they mature and flee from her embrace, she exists in their heads, where they continue to blame her for their bad fortunes. In 1980, Rosaleen takes to her bed when Dan, the eldest and her favorite, announces his intention to become a priest. She is even more aggrieved when he abandons the priesthood for the art community in New York in the 1990s and eventually allows his true sexual nature to emerge in a series of ardent gay trysts. Enright (winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Gathering) writes of this time and place with crystalline clarity. The tone is much different in the chapters set in Ardeevin, where the lilt of Irish vernacular permeates the dialogue. Meanwhile Emmet, the second son, is engaged in relief work in Mali, trying to retain his sanity as the death toll from famine mounts and his girlfriend lavishes her love on a mangy dog. Hanna, his sister, is an aspiring actress and a drunk who confronts reality at 37, bitterly ambivalent about being the mother of an unplanned baby. The fourth sibling, Constance, who has married well and lives with her happy family in Limmerick, is her mother’s dogsbody and the unappreciated provider. This novel is a vibrant family portrait, both pitiless and compassionate, witty and stark, of simple people living quiet lives of anguish, sometimes redeemed by moments of grace. (May)