Irish authors have a magical way with words. When I’m reading a book by an Irish author I can almost hear the lilt in the story-teller’s voice. They do, however, have a tendency to write rather bleak stories that rarely have a happy ending. Not that this is a criticism; it’s just that when I read I like to be uplifted. Many years ago I tried to get through Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. After reading several chapters of depressing narrative about dead babies, cold, damp tenant housing, starving children and drunken out-of-work husbands, I finally gave up. Despite the superb writing I just couldn’t take any more grief. In a way, Anne Enright’s The Green Road is true to the same genre of troubled Irish families but not nearly as dark and something compelled me to keep reading in case things turned around.
Rosaleen Madigan married beneath her station and produced four children, two boys and two girls, Constance, Dan, Emmet and Hanna, with her husband Pat in a west-coast village in County Clare. Rosaleen loved Pat and she loved her babies. But she ran into trouble when the children grew older and presented her with their individual challenges and personality quirks. As a result, she grew defensive and passive-aggressive. Her behaviour reminded me of Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond. She martyred herself, became overly dramatic and frequently simply abdicated her responsibility. Family life was a troubled affair.
The lifestyles of her four children as adults were completely divergent. Unmarried son Emmet spent most of his time trying to save the world as an aid worker in Africa. Conflicted Dan moved to America to avoid having to confront his mother about being gay, and Canadian readers will enjoy the scenes from his life in Toronto. Constance, the eldest, married a local builder, had children of her own and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle living near her mother, while enduring their strained relationship. Hanna, the youngest was the bohemian of the family. As a frustrated actor with a baby, she struggled with depression and a drinking problem, a source of stress with her partner.
Anne Enright writes in a way that I really enjoy reading. In fact, I find she accomplishes what everyone says Alice Munro does so well, but I find Enright’s prose more compelling. She describes seemingly mundane, colourless everyday scenes and activities with a delicate painter’s brush—frayed nerves during antagonistic family conversations in the kitchen; frustrations with simply trying to do the grocery shopping the day before Christmas; accepting the realization that life did not turn out the way you hoped it would. These are experiences we can all relate to and Enright makes them engaging. The Green Road is basically a character study and is a fast read. I enjoyed it and if you like to read about family dynamics in today’s world, I think you’ll enjoy it too, with its gentle touch of Irish angst.