The Green Road is a story about the Madigans which spans over thirty-five years. In part one of the novel; Leaving, we get a glimpse of the lives of Madigan children (Constance, Dan, Emmet, and Hanna – children of Pat and Rosaleen Madigan) and Rosaleen, in chapters that read like short stories. There is nothing extraordinary about the Madigans, they are a typical Irish family. The Madigans are not perfect and they do not always get along with each other, which make the story more real.
The first two chapters of the novel were rather slow-moving for me. The story begins in 1980, when Hanna becomes worried about their mother’s “horizontal solution” to Dan’s announcement of his desire to become a priest. The second chapter follows Dan in New York almost a decade later, where he is no longer a priest and struggling with acknowledging his own sexuality.
So it was the third chapter where Constance goes in alone for a mammogram after feeling a lump in her breast that hooked me with the novel. The sheer intensity of Constance’s feelings delivered through her powerful narration made it impossible for me to put down the book. The fourth and fifth chapters, equally good, were respectively on Emmet, a doctor working for international aid in Africa, and Rosaleen, a recent widow living in the Madigan house by herself.
By having separate chapters for the individual family members in the first part, Anne Enright shows us how family dynamics change over time, with each member having a life of their own, separated by others. The Madigans get together only in the second part of the novel; Coming Home, when they all gather in their ancestral house to celebrate Christmas after hearing Rosaleen’s decision to sell it.
The Green Road is a well written family saga. Although I prefer prose of the likes of Margaret Atwood over Anne Enright, Anne Enright’s novels have depth. In The Green Road, through the character of Dan, she explores how hard and confusing it must have been for gay people in early 90s New York, when a lot of young men lost their lives to AIDS. Anne Enright draws a compelling picture of the stigma attached to AIDS and discrimination by society that followed, which made me sad for gay people then and now – for their ongoing struggle in some parts of the world.
Of all the signs, the purple bruise of Kaposi’s was the one we hated most because there was no doubting it and, after the first mother snatches her child from the seat beside you on the subway, it gets hard to leave the house. Sex is also hard to find. Even a hug, when you are speckled by death, is a complicated thing. And the people who would sleep with you now – what kind of people are they?
We did not want to be loved when we got sick, because that would be unbearable, and love was all we looked for, in our last days.
Through Constance – my favorite character in the novel and the glue that binds the Madigans together – Anne Enright has accomplished in giving a voice to women who would otherwise go unnoticed. The wife of a wealthy developer and a mother of three, Constance is a strong and a caring woman, who lives to make other people happy. Her efforts go unappreciated by those who surround her most of the time and it is impossible to not notice how she is taken for granted, even when she is lying sick in bed.