The Madigan family is made up of four children and their mother, with the father having passed away some time ago. In the first half of The Green Road, aptly titled Leaving, we learn of each child’s experience of moving away from their mother in some form or another. That leaving could be as simple as realising how they differ or, in the cases of Dan and Emmet, actually moving to the far flung places of the globe to forge a different life. In the second half, after Rosaleen decides to sell the house her children grew up in, we see all of them return for one final Christmas together in the family domicile.
The first half is probably the more intriguing, touching on the AIDS crisis, African poverty, and the fear of cancer as it does. Several page-turning plots are hinted at, particularly in the case of Dan and his turn from the priesthood to a closeted homosexuality in the United States, but in almost every instance that attention-grabbing plot is pulled into a less intriguing and more mundane family drama that simply doesn’t deliver.
In the second half, as the family return, what we find is less an exploration of how a family forges its different paths as the children find their own way in life, and more a farcical comedy looking at how none of them can really escape the clutches of their mother. It may be funny and touching on occasion. But it’s never really that gripping or interesting.
Any Cop?: You can kind of see why the Booker have longlisted this novel. Always a fan of the family narrative that stretches generations, the judging panel have picked a host of stories like this one in the past. It’s safe, it tries to touch on some big issues, it does absolutely nothing to offend or cause controversy. It is, in the end, much more ‘middle of the road’ than ‘the green road’ it refers to.