The Green Road

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The Green Road
336 pages; W. W. Norton & Company
Anne Enright's new novel, The Green Road, describes a path—cold, barren, wild—that runs along the west coast of Ireland, bordering the forbidding, endless sea; but this route is also one we all travel, to our adult selves and back again. Enright, author of The Gathering and winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, is a master of emotional excavation, and here she unearths the elaborate manipulations that occur between parents and children, siblings, spouses and lovers in a County Clare family.

Rosaleen Madigan, the clan's widowed matriarch, is a quiet howl of suppressed rage and longing: "Sometimes she looked at them and she was so flooded with love, she just had to go and spoil it." In this mother's brand of devotion, weighted with expectation and guilt, the children betray her simply by growing up. The novel illustrates how, over 30 years, Rosaleen's maternal control has both nourished and damaged Constance, Dan, Emmet, and Hanna as they establish their lives in Limerick, New York, Mali and Dublin. Each of their worlds is expertly illuminated to reveal the secrets the adult children hide—from themselves, from one another. Hanna, depressed and with a new baby, conceals the depth of her alcoholism and her unhappiness. Emmet, on missions in Africa to help the starving, cannot admit that in an unjust world he can never truly love. Constance, efficient wife and mother of three, doesn't confide that she may have cancer. Dan doesn't confess to Rosaleen that he is gay and about to marry his partner.

But even as, in their silence, they splinter away from the familial, the visceral pull of those ties invariably draws them back. "We had been, for those hours on the dark mountainside, a force. A family," one character concludes at the end, after the tribe reunites in search of their missing mother. The author's brilliance is to express all the gradations of feeling that exist within her protagonists' frustrations and yearnings. The green road to one's true self can be rough and uncertain; through her wise and majestic book, Enright shows us the beauty even in life's harsh terrain.
— Karen E. Bender