“Then he faced back into the horrors of the Madigans – their small hearts (his own was not entirely huge) and the small lives they put themselves through.”
“Horrors” is hyperbole, which may be exactly the point. In “The Green Road” Anne Enright takes us through more than two decades with the Madigan family, shifting perspective from one family member to the next, but always reminding the reader that these characters’ lives are simultaneously dramatic and pedestrian; extraordinary and extraordinarily common.
Raised by “a woman who did nothing and expected everything”, the four Madigan children live very different lives, but all seem to share a difficulty in finding permanence and commitment – to both people and places. Dan, the eldest, at one point describes himself as “more cat than dog. He did not need much, he could do as well without.” Methinks he doth protest too much. Dan, in fact, seems to hold himself at a remove, trying desperately not to need much for fear that his needs will go unfulfilled. Each of the siblings has an addiction – unsafe sex, excessive alcohol, caloric food, and dangerous austerity – upon which they binge in order to find the comfort and stability that their volatile mother didn’t provide.
This novel is about perspective. Each chapter is told from the perspective of another family member, in another time and place. And each narrator’s story is, in the end, about finding perspective. These characters are, in fact, living “small lives that they put themselves through.” Part of the perspective-finding is about the importance (or lack) of one’s own problems and worries. It is also, predictably, about death; as Enright posits midway through her tale, “death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Everyone dies. It’s the timing that matters. The first and second of it. The order in which we go.”
“The Green Road” was an artfully crafted novel that jumped and sped through time, sometimes at leaps of 10 years or more, and similarly sped along for the reader. The story was thoroughly engaging, but perhaps, like its “small characters” potentially forgettable. A solid, enjoyable read that may or may not stand the test of time and is, in my mind, an underdog for the Bailey’s Prize.