The Green Road by Anne Enright (Book 3 for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize)


I’d like to say I liked this book. That it deserves its place on the Man Booker long list. But, for me? It was another look at family, which while well written, had nothing particularly fresh to say.

There’s an overly dramatic mother, who favors one child over the others. There’s a conscientious oldest sister who tries to make everyone happy. There’s a son who goes overseas to help the poor and downtrodden. There’s a younger daughter who says she wants to be an actress, but all she really wants is to drink.

The novel tells each of the children’s stories in a chapter of their own, beginning with Rosaleen (their mother) taking to her bed when she hears that Dan wants to become a priest. Their lives are portrayed perfectly, I think. We can imagine each person in his or her surroundings, we can fully accept their thoughts as believable and even, in places, aligning with our own.

It is on Christmas Day that everything comes to a head. The five are gathered, with a spouse and grandchildren of the oldest daughter, and as so often happens during the holidays, a lovely dinner turns frantic. Rosaleen has suddenly left in her little Citroen, without any advance warning, to travel down the green road. True to form, she seems to think only of herself, and when the children finally roust themselves to come looking for her, indeed in a panic, they find themselves truly a family for at least that evening.

The Green Road reminded me vaguely of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. But where I feel that Anne Tyler returned to her magically told stories, I feel that Anne Enright portrayed far more power in her novel The Forgotten Waltz.

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

Fiachra, for example, ‘always knew’. He knew it before I did. ‘I am in love with him,’ I said, sitting in the back room of Ron Blacks after too many gin and tonics. And Fiachra waited a tiny, unforgivable moment, before he said:
‘I am sure you are’.
But it was the first time I had said the words out loud, and it might have been true all along but it became properly true then. True like something you have discovered. I loved him. Through all the shouting that followed, the silences, the gossip (an unbelievable amount of gossip) there was one thing I held on to, the idea, the fact, that I loved Sean Vallely and I held my head high, even as I glowed with shame. Glowed with it.
I love him.
Saying that this novel is about an affair is like saying a home is about bricks and glass. That’s true enough, in a way, but it’s not getting any where near the substance within. I have never read writing like that of Anne Enright’s. It is powerful, and funny, and thought provoking all at the same time. I read ever so slowly to capture every phrase, and reread sentences or whole paragraphs over again, to contemplate their meaning which resonated deeply within me. She’ll write something profound in a long paragraph, and then bam! follow it with a single sentence as reinforcement.

The Forgotten Waltz is a story about an affair. About marriage. About a family whose child’s needs have divided the parents; or the parents’ needs which have divided the child, because who can tell, really, what was the cause and what was the effect? It is a story which makes us look at our parents, at our loves, and most importantly ourselves.
It makes us ask if we are willing to accept the responsibility for the choices we have made, and were they, after all, worth the cost?
I loved it.
Anne Enright is a critically-acclaimed, internationally-bestselling Irish author. She has published essays, short stories, a non-fiction book, and four novels, including The Gathering, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and was named the 2008 Irish Novel of the Year. The Forgotten Waltz was published in October of this year.
Thank you to W. W. Norton & Company for sending me this book to review.