Sunday 4 June 2017

The Green Road

Anne Enright read a lovely piece from The Green Road at the Literature Festival, and so I bought the book, as you do. I did like it, but not as much as The Gathering that I read back in 2010. It felt more like a collection of stories rather than a novel; the lives of the family members are so separate that the links between them have become tenuous and I found that I did not get enough sense of the sibling bond between them.

I did bond with Constance. Here she is going for a mammogram:

"All Constance wanted to do was to make people happy.Why was it her job to fix them? Not one of the people she cared so much about knew where she was, right now. There wasn't a sinner to remember that she had a mammogram today, or enquire how it had gone, and a terrible sharp desire came over Constance to be told that the lump was malignant, so she could say to Dessie, 'You know where I was this morning?' and tell her mother, ' Yes, Mammy, cancer, they saw it on the scan,' then wait for the news to filter, finally, through to Lauren, Eileen, Martha Hingerty: who would then be obliged to call, 'Why didn't you tell me? I just heard.' " (p.96)

I like Anne Enright because she is a master of beautiful understated passages like this one; Dan with his therapist, talking about the death of his father:

"Scott sat across from Dan, his careful face flushed with the effort of staying with him in his sorrow, while Dan threw one Kleenex after another into the wooden wastepaper basket at his feet. He thought about all the discarded tears that ended up in it, from all the people who took their turn weeping, sitting in that chair. Many people, many times a day. The bin was made of pale wood, with a faint and open grain. It was always empty when he arrived. Expectant. The wastepaper basket was far too beautiful. The air inside it was the saddest air." (p.176)

The book gives us these glimpses into the separate lives of Rosaleen's four children, and then, in the second half, brings the family back together for Christmas, where Rosaleen plans to tell them she is selling the family home (and move in with Constance, that might come as a bit of a surprise). I think I found them so real because the gathering was not all cosy and affectionate, but slightly tense and uncomfortable. Each of them is aware of some kind of judgement from the others, each feeling uncertain about their own reception, wanting to be accepted but at the same time reluctant to feel familial obligation. It is the mixed emotions of the family that brings about the drama. And then Mammy goes off for her afternoon constitutional, and doesn't come back. A classic case of dramatic events bringing people's emotions to the surface and people seeing what is important to them. 

Here Emmet neatly sums up family life, not just for the Madigans but probably for many families:

"He could see the next couple of days stretching out in front of them. there would be much talk about house prices, how well Dessie McGrath was doing, what everything was worth these days - more expensive than Toronto, Dan, yes, that cowshed down the road. Emmet would start an argument with Constance about the Catholic Church  - because Constance, who believed nothing, would not admit it in front of her children who were expected to believe everything or at least pretend they believed it, just like their mother. Hanna would have a rant about some newspaper critic, their mother would opine that these people sometimes knew what they were talking about, and on they would all go. It was, Emmet thought, like living in a hole in the ground." (p.215)

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