The Green Road – Anne Enright

Published January 26, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

From internationally acclaimed author Anne Enright comes a shattering novel set in a small town on Ireland’s Atlantic coast. The Green Road is a tale of family and fracture, compassion and selfishness—a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we strive to fill them.

Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart. As they grow up, Rosaleen’s four children leave the west of Ireland for lives they could have never imagined in Dublin, New York, and Mali, West Africa. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.

A profoundly moving work about a family’s desperate attempt to recover the relationships they’ve lost and forge the ones they never had, The Green Road is Enright’s most mature, accomplished, and unforgettable novel to date.

What did I think?:

The Green Road is (I think) my first novel by Anne Enright although I’ve heard a lot of great things about her other novels, especially The Gathering which won the Man Booker Prize back in 2007 and is on my radar to read. The Green Road came to my attention when I attended the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2016 shortlist readings as it was one of the short-listed books. After a reading from the novel, I was determined to check it out as the passage read was absolutely hilarious and made the audience howl. I’m eventually getting round to reading it (in early 2018 – shame on me!) and generally, I really enjoyed it but not quite as much as I was expecting to. This is a categorically Irish story about members of a typical Irish family and how the mother of this family copes when all her chicks fly the nest. It was gorgeously written and parts of it still play on my mind long after finishing, as do many of the characters.

Our story begins in 1980 and we follow the youngest daughter of this family, Hanna as a young girl. Furthermore, the following chapters follow a single character of the family in a different city at a particular struggle of their life. For example, the chapter immediately following Hanna is one of the sons, Dan in 1991, New York as he battles with the American way of life, finding a job and most importantly, his sexuality. Then we see the oldest daughter, Constance in 1997 as she is attending a very crucial hospital appointment, desperately worrying that she might have breast cancer. The penultimate chapter in the first half of the novel is the other son, Emmet in 2002 as helps the sick and injured in Mali, Africa and experiences difficulties in his relationship with a young woman. Finally we see the mother, Rosaleen in 2005 as she writes Christmas cards to her children, desperately hoping they will all come home for Christmas and worries that the relationships she has with them are all disintegrating. In the second half of the narrative, we see all the children back home with their mother for Christmas but realise how fractured their relationships and indeed their lives actually are.

Essentially, this is a quintessential family saga with all the major and minor dramas that large personalities in a family can bring. It’s written at points almost like a stream of consciousness, particularly when characters are speaking to each other with classic Irish phrasing and slang. I loved this latter part, it was so visceral I could almost imagine myself in Ireland, listening to people speaking but unfortunately the stream of consciousness part didn’t work so well for me, it was sometimes a bit difficult to follow and it made me want to skip entire parts of the narrative. However, I was surprised at the range of emotions this novel elicited from me. I felt such sadness for Constance when she was in the hospital and for Hanna as she struggled with alcohol, her relationship with her husband and being a mother of a young baby (potentially post-natal depression?).

I was also touched by Dan’s story as he was so horribly determined not to be homosexual in the beginning but ended up finding happiness, and of course Emmet and the good he did in Africa whilst never really managing to love anyone. As I’m writing this, I’m remembering how wonderful parts of this novel really were but unfortunately there were other parts that I didn’t love so much and just didn’t flow for me the way I wanted. Perhaps from the reading I mentioned early at the Baileys short-list event I was expecting this novel to be a lot funnier that it actually was and wasn’t anticipating the seriousness I discovered so was slightly taken aback. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this novel, I did very much but I think expectations are strange things and I am a bit of a slave to them, once I’ve made up my mind how I might feel about a novel prior to reading it. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the slow pace and the intricate character studies which I always appreciate in a good literary fiction.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


The Green Road by Anne Enright is the seventh book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

2 comments on “The Green Road – Anne Enright

  • I read this a long time ago and really enjoyed it. Although there was something about it that after I’d finished left me feeling slightly odd. It’s so long ago that I can’t quite remember what that was though. Maybe I need to pick it up again. I do like irish literature, it draws me to it! Thanks for another fab review Beth!

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