Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mother's Ruin

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mother's Ruin

Article excerpt

The Green Road

Anne Enright

Jonathan Cape, 310pp, 16.99 [pounds sterling]

"I am," Samuel Beckett once wrote of his mother, "what her savage loving has made me." His observation might serve as the epigraph to Anne Enright's new novel, a family romance that begins with Rosaleen Madigan taking to her bed for two weeks after her favourite son, Dan, reveals that he wants to join the priesthood. The Madigans are eating Sunday lunch when he makes his announcement: bacon and cabbage with white sauce and carrots, the green, white and orange lying on their plates "like the Irish flag".

Dan's bombshell, the first of a series of controlled explosions, takes place in 1980. We do not see the Madigans together again until 2005 when, in the book's second half, they reconvene in County Clare for a final Christmas before Rosaleen sells her house in order to divide the spoils. On this occasion, Dan, "a raging blank of a human being", announces that he is engaged to his Canadian boyfriend.

The lives of the Madigans in the 25 years between 1980 and 2005 unfold in sinuous chapters of homoeopathic intensity. After dropping out of the priesthood, Dan goes to New York where, one by one, his friends die from Aids; his awakening sexuality is described with unnerving brilliance. His chilly brother, Emmet, works for a charity in Africa before returning to a semi-detached on the wrong side of Dublin, while their sisters never leave Ireland. Hanna, the youngest, is a disappointed actress and Constance an overweight housewife and mother.

Rosaleen, who believes that a woman should be interesting, "keeps her figure and always listens to the news". She is less interested, however, in the wider world than in what happens in County Clare, even though nothing happens in County Clare; Rosaleen "saw to that, too". For Emmet, Ireland is like "living in a hole in the ground", but the boom has turned the country into the Celtic Tiger, a land of BMWs, handbags and Camembert. The contents of Constance's Christmas shopping trolley are a depressing summation of an economy on a bender. Enjoying the euro and the new, tarmacked roads, Constance "loved to drive. It was the perfect excuse. For what, she did not know."

Each of the chapters is a short story in which we are given a snapshot of the Madigans. …

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