Monthly Archives: January 2016

Writing and Reading: Capturing complexity in Anne Enright’s “The Green Road”

“That’s an excellent question! You really grasped the essence of Rosaleen,” Irish writer Anne Enright exclaimed.

I was near the back of the theatre at the 2015 International Festival of Authors in Toronto. The audience Q&A was winding down at the end of a panel session in which Enright and several other novelists had been discussing their recent works.

I got the moderator’s attention and posed my comment/question to Enright: “You have drawn Rosaleen, the mother character in your exquisite novel “The Green Road,” as such a complex character. At least that’s how I experienced her, especially in the final climactic chapters. She relates to her adult children in an irritating passive-aggressive manner hurtling guilt-ridden barbs at each of them for what she perceives as their abandonment of her. As a reader, I identified totally with the frustration that her children were experiencing. And then Rosaleen goes off, disappearing into the countryside, and we see this incredibly vulnerable and fragile woman prepared to lie down and die, not out of vindictiveness toward her family but out of genuine despair at the loneliness and aridness of how her life is shrinking. And suddenly, you have me as the reader, in deep sympathy for her. How did you manage to create such a complex character that we find ourselves simultaneously irritated by and weeping for?”

Enright replied, “That’s an excellent question! You really grasped the essence of Rosaleen.” I was thrilled. Esteemed author Anne Enright, winner of the Man Booker Prize for her previous novel “The Gathering,” was complimenting my perceptiveness. I know… I’m easily flattered. But when a writer whom I hold in high regard talks with me as a peer … well, that’s terrific.

I learned as our conversation continued that for Enright, there was some degree of planned intentionality about creating the complexity of Rosaleen, but by in large it emerged for her spontaneously. Enright said that she had procrastinated writing much about Rosaleen because she knew that the character was going to have to be so multidimensional. She wrote most of the rest of the novel and fleshed out the other characters before tackling her. But when she began with Rosaleen, especially in the climactic finale, it just flowed. She knew what she had to write and how. In one sense, it was already formed in her mind after she had laid down the rest of the story, and in another sense it was emerging spontaneously from her imagination. She did little rewriting of those final scenes. Creating Rosaleen was one of the most satisfying occasions of her writing career.

“Thank you so much for asking your question. I’m glad that I got an opportunity to share that experience.”

As I said, I was thrilled by our little exchange. Reading fine literature is such a source of enrichment for me. Encountering and being able to dialogue with the creators of fine literature deepens my appreciation for the product, the writer and the craft, all of which encourages me further in my own writing. Intellectually and artistically, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The Green Road

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For information on my writing, see my website at http://DavidGHallman.com

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