The Green Road

Terry Eagleton writes:

Hegel believed that happiness was largely confined to the private life, a view that would scarcely survive a reading of the modern novel. A lot of fiction since the early 20th century takes it for granted that families will be dysfunctional, individual lives unfulfilled and relationships cockpits of gladiatorial combat. Almost all the characters in Anne Enright’s superb new novel are spiritually damaged in one way or another, but we are not told exactly how they landed up like this, and it would seem churlish to inquire. Do you end up an alcoholic, like one of the characters here, because you have been driven to the bottle by an exasperating mother, or is lying drunk and bleeding on the kitchen floor just the way of the world? Is it an ontological truth that families are bunches of people who get on each other’s nerves? Perhaps failure and frustration are synonymous with being alive, which is not a viewpoint one can imagine Jane Austen or Walter Scott adopting. ‘I look at him,’ the narrator of Enright’s earlier novel The Gathering remarks of her husband, ‘a big, sexy streak of misery, with his face stuck in a glass of obscure Scotch, as he traces the watermark of failure that runs through his life, that is there on every page.’

(LRB 4 June 2015)

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