A Map of Things Known and Lost in Anne Enright's the Green Road

By Estevez-Saa, Margarita | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

A Map of Things Known and Lost in Anne Enright's the Green Road


Estevez-Saa, Margarita, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


There is an ongoing debate among critics of contemporary Irish literature that divides those specialists who consider that Irish writers are too intent on revisiting the past history of the island, from the, comparatively speaking, scarce number of scholars who have been able to notice how contemporary Irish authors are minutely dissecting in their fictions the present socio-cultural circumstances of Ireland. Therefore, Fintan O'Toole (2001, 2010), Declan Kiberd (2005), Julian Gough (2010), and Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien (2014) represent those critical voices that maintain that the Irish writers are too intent on, almost obsessed with, looking to the past, and that they seem unable to dissect in their fictions the changing atmosphere of the island. Thus, Julian Gough stated in 2010 that "If there is a movement in Ireland, it is backwards. Novel after novel set in the nineteen seventies, sixties, fifties. Reading award winning Irish literary fiction, you wouldn't know television had been invented" (1). More recently, Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien exemplified this alleged disregard for the present focusing on the years of prosperity in Ireland, and wondered why "it was that our writers and artists, along with politicians, economists, academics and the media in general, failed to alert the public in an adequate manner to the dangers associated with the Celtic Tiger. Why was there no major novel, for example, that exposed what was really happening in Ireland at that time?" (2014: 6).

Nevertheless, Anne Fogarty (2003), Eilis Ni Dhuibhne (2010), and Susan Cahill (2012) have been able to identify authors and works concerned with bearing witness to contemporary life in Ireland. In this sense, Ni Dhuibhne proves her point by offering some examples of novels

   all dealing in whole or in part with modern
   Ireland in its various manifestations pre-Celtic
   Tiger, Celtic Tiger, post-Celtic Tiger: Nuala
   O'Faolain, Almost There; Mary Rose Callaghan,
   Billy Come Home; Lia Mills, Nothing Simple;
   Catherine Dunne, Set In Stone; Jennifer
   Johnston, Truth or Fiction; Claire Kilroy, Only
   the Names Have Been Changed [sic]. Several of
   my books, which modesty prevents me from
   naming, could be added to the list (1).

It cannot be denied that outstanding contemporary Irish authors continue to successfully delve into the past, as in the case of Joseph O'Connor (Star of the Sea, 2002; Redemption Falls, 2007), Sebastian Barry (Annie Dunne, 2002; A Long Long Way, 2005; The Secret Scripture, 2008; On Canaan's Side, 2011), Colm Toibin (Brooklyn, 2009; Nora Webster, 2014), Mary Costello (Academy Street, 2014), Lia Mills (Fallen, 2014), Evelyn Conlon (Not the Same Sky, 2015), and Nuala O'Connor (Miss Emily, 2015), to name but some examples of highly acclaimed Irish authors and novels. These works have shared the publishing marketplace with other fictions that deploy the changing socio-cultural circumstances of contemporary Ireland, such as Mary Rose Callaghan's The Visitors' Book (2001), Elizabeth Wassell's The Things He Loves (2001) and Sustenance (2011), Anne Haverty's The Free and Easy (2006), Eillis Ni Dhuibhne's Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow (2007), Chris Binchy's Open-Handed (2008), Peter Cunningham's Capital Sins (2010), Hugo Hamilton's Hand in the Fire (2010), Claire Kilroy's The Devil I Know (2012) Colm Keena's Bishop's Move (2013), Donal Ryan's The Spinning Heart (2012) and The Thing about December (2013), or Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void (2015). Therefore, we cannot agree with Maher and O'Brien when they maintain that there is no serious "fictional representation of the 1990s and beyond, apart from some references in the genres of crime fiction and chick lit" (2014: 6). Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that Irish women writers such as Mary Rose Callaghan, Elizabeth Wassell, Anne Haverty and Eillis Ni Dhuibhne wrote fictions in which they denounced the follies of Celtic Tiger Ireland and even anticipated the social, cultural and economic dangers of a rapidly changing society before the official financial collapse of the island in 2008 (Estevez-Saa 2010; 2013). …

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