Thank goodness I finished a book this week, so I don’t have to go on and on about the weather! I’m sitting with my cup of delicious steeped chai tea and a yummy Date Bar from City Cafe, thinking about The Green Road by Anne Enright, which is the book we will be discussing for my book group meeting tomorrow night. I have to refresh my memory because I finished it a few days ago and have been reading another book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, for next Saturday’s book club meeting, and I find that when I read books too quickly in succession, the details of each start to blend into one another.
The Green Road tells the story of the four Madigan children (the “mad Madigans”) and explores their relationship with their mother, Rosaleen, a story that spans from the 1980s to 2005, when they all come home for Christmas to their West Ireland family home. Dan fled from home to join the priesthood in the 1980s, but ends up scraping together a living on the streets of New York at the height of the AIDS scare among the gay community. Emmet becomes an aide worker, travelling around the world offering what help he can to those who need it most and have the least, yet being unable to truly care for himself. The youngest (and prettiest) child, Hanna, moves to Dublin to become an actress and then a mother, fulfilling neither of these roles well as alcohol consumes her. Only Constance stays close to home and raises a family while her husband acquires more and more wealth. Rosaleen struggles to cope with the flight of her children and the loss of her husband, Pat, while trying to hold onto some purpose and meaning in her own life. She is an enigma, and her children are simultaneously repelled by her callous comments and attitude and yet also drawn by the myth of “family hearth and home”. They want to remember a “wonderful” childhood, yet the reality was anything but wonderful. This is the story of one family finally coming to terms with the truth about their past and trying to salvage what they can to move forward into the future. I’ve spoken to a few of my book club members recently who said that they didn’t feel this book was very engaging or memorable, and I have to agree. I think the problem with this book is the structure: there are chapters devoted solely to one adult child’s experiences at a particular time in their lives, but there seems to be no real pattern to the time periods chosen, and no mention of the others in each child’s story. Then, periodically, there will be a chapter exploring Rosaleen’s experiences, but those are more sporadic. It seems that there is no real rhyme or reason to the book’s structure. In my humble opinion (not being a Booker prize-winning author myself!), I think this book would have been more engaging if Enright had started out with all the children coming together at Christmas in 2005, then having brief flashbacks to the past to fill in backstories. I also felt that the chapters focusing on Hanna’s and Constance’s lives were more convincing and believable than those about Dan and Emmet - maybe Enright writes better from a female point of view than that of a male character. There were some of Enright’s trademark turns-of-phrases that just capture the way things are so simply yet so succinctly: “Rosaleen was tired of waiting. She had been waiting all her life for something that never happened, and she could not bear the suspense any longer” (p 259), but these occurrences were fewer and further between than in her past works. And each of the characters’ stories were interesting and could have been novels in themselves, but thrown together they way they were, they just didn’t seem to work as well as they might have done if the structure was different. Anyway, I’m glad to have read this book, as I feel that it sheds a real light on the truth behind "happy families" and what it's like to be raised by a mother who manipulates her children psychologically throughout their childhood and plays head games with them to get them to do what she wants. I think it will be an interesting discussion - I suspect we will all enjoy the book just a bit more once we have a chance to talk about it and share our thoughts.
That’s all for today. Get outside and enjoy the mild temperature and the sun!