Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Booker Longlist: The Green Road

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Anne Enright's latest novel is the accomplishment of making the family the narrator. Greater than the sum of its parts: contradictory, secret, despairing, spiteful, forgiving, in The Green Road the family emerges as a thoroughly credible, absolutely reliable narrator. This is a very elegantly written novel, with a sure-footed sense of the competing loyalties and frustrations that power a family. At the heart of the novel is a reunion, but the intelligence that underpins this novel is that reunion is both unnecessary (for the connections are unbreakable) and impossible (for the slippages are great, the fragmentations inevitable, the hostilities unbreachable.) In a family, Enright claims, what connects us is precisely what holds us apart.
Through the circling narrations of the different family members at different historical moments Enright builds up a picture of the profound unknowability of those we love. We think we understand them, we think we belong to them, but ultimately who they are remains elusive, their motivations inscrutible, their aspirations unthinkable. Rosaleen, mother to this family, is theatrically selfish, begrudging her children's lives even as she desires them. Her children circle around her, leave her, refuse her and indulge her, but they do know know her and she does not, will not know them.
If this sounds bleak, then so be it. Enright's writing is sparse to the point of plain. Her characters are all in different ways spiritually and emotionally impoverished. They show each other no mercy. And yet as readers, again and again we are gently encouraged  by Enright to pity them and the landscapes they inhabit.
And landscape is something else Anne Enright understands and can represent in deft brushstrokes. From County Clare to Mali to New York, she quietly asserts her ability. Each location is thoroughly evoked, reminding us that Enright is not just capable of a bit of  your Auld Oirish but able to transport us beyond what we thought we could expect to something utterly other. The Green Road navigates the uncertain terrains of different identities, different lands, different mindsets but ultimately brings us home, to the family, with all its flaws, its rawness and its ups and downs.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

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