“I am sorry I can’t invite you home for Christmas because I am
Irish and my family is mad.”
Anne Enright in The Green Road serves up a delicious Irish stew, complete with equal portions of sorrow and laughter laced with intricate gravy of compassion.
The novel is divided into two basic parts: leaving and coming home, and when you think about it – that’s every family’s saga.
This particular family consists of Patrick and Rosaleen Madigan and their four children – Dan, Constance, Emmet and Hanna. Though Patrick’s role is largely silent – even while he’s alive – he provides a firm foundation of loving, moral decency. As a mother, Rosaleen, despite her strong love for her children, doles out a daily diet of mixed signals. A compliment is chased with a criticism as though the glare of day could not sustain a ray of encouragement. Disappointment crowns her queenly ways. Nothing is ever completely good. But still the children hover, waiting for that boon of approval and living on it for days.
The story begins with a young Dan announcing his plans to become a priest – which sends the mother into a paroxysm of tears, which water down her Easter dinner, and then to a “horizontal solution” for days. Patrick retreats from the apple pie dessert as well, leaving the rest of the pie and book to be divided between the children and the formidable will of Rosaleen.
They all leave in the next years except Constance. Instead of
becoming a priest, Dan heads for New York City where he sells shoes and his
Irish charm. And despite, or because of his live-in girlfriend Isabel, he
explores the 1980s gay scene that is ricocheting with the frenzy of AIDS. Life
and death are chilling bedfellows. With kinetic disregard, he flits dangerously
from petal to petal, never stopping long enough to assess or commit.
Constance remains the keeper of home fires, always within
reach, always within the smother of resentment. From societal standards, she
succeeds, with a loving husband and family, comfortable home, luxury car and an
endless longing to drive – anywhere. Emmet roams the world looking for humanity
to save from war, hunger, poverty, disease, seeing the suffering of the larger
world but unable to salvage relationships in his own bedroom. Hanna strives for
a career on stage, lubricating her every possible moment with alcohol. Her
relationship with Hugh yields a baby whose birth she describes as “a fight
wrapped up in a blanket.” Still she longs for healing, for a firm place to
place her feet, for the security of the early days when she snuggled close to
her father and smelled “the day’s work: fresh air, diesel, hay, with a memory
of cattle in there somewhere and beyond that again the memory of milk.”
So, all the children run. Far. And Rosaleen, now a widow,
anchored in the family home, Ardeevin, muses about their ingratitude. To bring
her straying flock home, she invites them to Christmas, with the hook that she
is going to sell the homestead. Suddenly, all roads lead to home.
Christmas becomes the quintessential formula for dysfunction
in a hilarious confluence of grocery shopping, gifts, decorations, food,
togetherness. Enright laughs at their foibles, while holding them close in a
most loving embrace. At the height of the disruption, Rosaleen flees to the
Green Road in despair but finds in the end, among the stars, her children’s
Though the book has Irish lens aplenty, the story is
brilliantly universal and Rosaleen ends by saying “I should have paid more
attention to things.
And we all would do well to pause at that particular pot of gold.