I've just finished Anne Enright's The Green Road and I can safely report it's a good book. The writing is at once grand in its capacity and small in its attention to detailed, particular moments. With a compelling use of a shifting third person limited narration, the plot traces the Madigan family over decades. Each long chapter follows one of the four children in a specific moment in time, richly evoking place and character. Each successive chapter moves chronologically, leaps forward, always toward something. That something is the eventual family reunion when all children are gathered at their childhood home for Christmas.
It wouldn't be an outrageous argument to claim these chapters are linked short stories, such is the telescopic focus on the one child, the particular time and place. For instance, the (best) chapter following Dan through the gay community in the 1980s, AIDS ravaged New York, is a tight story unto itself. Even while the development of Dan's character comes to have resonance in the eventual reunion chapter such that this earlier chapter is necessary for the latter, his New York story could be chapter self-contained for its own sake.
To this point on the function of the character-focused chapters: Perhaps because the mother in the story, Rosaleen, does not get a chapter onto herself (in this way the form mirrors the message that she has devoted her sense of self entirely to serving her children), the climactic moments that focus on her feel less pressing than they might had we had time to connect with her first-hand. That said, the children's reaction to these climactic scenes give the reader a firm sense of the importance and reverberations of the moments.
It's a good book for exploring questions of familial loyalty, of how and when identity becomes fixed, of who we want to be versus who we might actually be, and of what we owe our family (read 'owe' as broadly as you can: what debts we aim to repay, what we have because of them, what obligations are due). These questions get worked out in individual chapters and across the whole with each successive chapter adding layer and echo as the reader comes to piece together both chronology and family hierarchies.
A good book, then, is one that is well written, with strong character development and thematically rich. This one then is good, and given the profile of Anne Enright, will probably be described as great. You be the judge.
When's she not reading, Erin Aspenlieder is teaching, running or eating cookies (sometimes all at once). She prefers fiction and books made of paper. She blogs at literaryvice.ca