Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, 17 May 2016

The Green Road Review

Anne Enright’s 2015 novel, The Green Road, was published a few months after she became the first Laureate for Irish Fiction. Its premise is deceptively plain: four siblings, who left home to live their disparate lives, return to Ireland when their mother announces her plan to sell the family property. But nothing is simple in Enright’s hands. She has an astonishing acuity of gaze, which is equally precise whether it is turned on the landscapes of County Clare or the peculiarities of sibling love, when Dan wonders how his lover would react to meeting his family: ‘Of course Ludo would love Constance, with her deliberate stupidity and her supermarket hair.’

Enright applies an almost surgical precision to her characters: to Hanna, the failing actress who drowns her sorrows in wine; to Emmet, who takes his empty heart to Africa, disguising his inability to love with a blameless career as an aid-worker. The stand-out sections of the book focus on the older two siblings, Constance and Dan, who considers the priesthood before switching to a life in the art world of North America. We follow Dan’s social circle in New York, as AIDS takes it brutal toll, and to Toronto where he moves in with a man who adores him: ‘These days, Dan did not know if Ludo still loved him, or if Ludo was just nice to him all the time.’

Constance, the martyred sister who organises the last Christmas in the family home, is perpetually fraught as she tries to please everyone but herself: ‘Hanna was too miserable to help and Emmet did not see the need for it – it was like he had a different set of eyes. So it was her and Dan, mostly, but Dan did not do dishes, Dan did food.’

Enright’s clarity of vision is married, as always, to prose which flirts and skips its way across the page, funny and devastating in equal measure. This is that rarest of books: one which improves with every read.