Greener by Gráinne Murphy

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Literary Fiction
Greener

By Gráinne Murphy

Come on in: our homes as friendship spaces. Gráinne Murphy on the inspiration behind her new novel, Greener.

Remember when you were fourteen and you’d go to your friend’s house after school or on a Saturday afternoon or during the school holidays? And they’d have to do their jobs before they could hang out with you, so you’d just do them too – scrape carrots, fold sheets, sweep the floor (I was a culchie, so our dogs walked themselves). And in the evenings you’d sit at the dinner table with their whole family and talk and answer questions and pass plates and when everyone was finished you got up and cleared the table and dried the dishes, the two of you side by side with your tea towels and endless chat. Later still, you’d sit in their living room, where the television was, and watch whatever their brothers and sisters were watching on the two channels available. Their parents too, if they were finished the day’s jobs.

This wasn’t an American sitcom, just a particular kind of lucky ordinary childhood for an Irish child or teenager in the eighties and nineties. You knew your friend, yes, and you also knew their family.

When I started writing Greener, that was the sort of teenage friendship I had in mind for Helen, Annie and Laura. The kind that feels like your house is my house, your family is my family. But other people’s families are a gift, not an entitlement. After not seeing each other for twenty-five years, Helen comes back from abroad to find Annie living comfortably in her – Helen’s – beloved childhood home, caring for her – Helen’s – ill father. Now, it is Annie and Jack who are friends, and that changes everything.

Friendships, in my experience, are often almost indistinguishable from the spaces in which they happen and deepen. Proximity and time initially, in our school years, when seeing someone both inside and outside of school is important. Then shared interests in early adulthood, with the discovery of books and music and films and sports that unite or divide us. Then proximity and time again, through workplaces or neighbourhood spaces as we move to new jobs or new places and try to put down roots. Then shared interests again, as life settles and we have some free time or we find important new people and communities in real or virtual spaces. Then proximity and time again, as life draws in around us because of age or declining health, whether our own or those in our care circle.

For me, that easy welcome in my friends’ houses came back when I needed it most. When our baby daughter, Ali, was exhaustingly, terminally ill, I wandered our housing estate early in the mornings or at weekends, sometimes with our toddler, Oisín, sometimes alone. My friends’ front doors would open and I would be ushered in for coffee and normality. To be invited inside in all my dishevelled wreck might not have been lifesaving in the strictest sense, but it was a lifeline all the same.

When we lived abroad, the physical spaces in which we lived were crucial to my efforts to make friends. Inviting people over or being asked to lunch or dinner in someone’s house signalled a proper welcome into each other’s lives and marked a shift in friendship gears. With the exception of my sister, with whom I exchanged long handwritten letters, my pre-existing friendships in Ireland were necessarily virtual. Facebook was a useful way of checking in without having to send the same text multiple times. But it was less friendship than a placeholder for friendship. Whenever we came home to visit, we ran ourselves ragged trying to meet everyone in person, to reassure ourselves those connection were still there. Virtual hugs cannot take the place of real hugs; they are too easy to fake.

Already this may be somewhat of a nostalgic paradigm. Our friendship spaces are changing as our workplaces, social and community spaces, commute times, daily demands, our rootedness in places, even our time and energy levels change. When my children’s friends come over, they claim the living room with the TV while we retreat to the kitchen, or they go to their rooms with their devices and gaming and private chatter. We can point to screens or Covid or social change or a growing generation gap. We can talk about changing language, busyness, distraction, digital lives, extracurricular activities, shifts in how we work and eat and engage. Whatever the reason, we – and our friendships – are increasingly private.

We are losing our gift of casualness with our friends’ houses, the taking-for-granted that we can simply call and be welcome. Remember going visiting on Sunday afternoons? When the whole family simply got into the car and drove to several houses – often, not even relatives – to call in for a cup of tea and a chat in each, with no warning? That feels impossible now. Our homes are, more than ever, our private spaces, our protected spaces. No man is an island, but it feels like we are making fortresses of our homes as a proxy for our lack of control and free time.

In Greener, for Annie and Laura, that ease in their friend’s house has returned. For Helen, however, it is hard not to feel they are intruding in what should be a private space – they are different people now, so surely the rules are different too? Suddenly, friendship and family have lines that can be crossed and boundaries that need to be negotiated. As Laura says, ‘in the gap between what a person meant and what they did was every story ever written.’

Greener asks: What would you do if you travelled back to visit your father in your childhood home, walked up the path and knocked on the door, only to have it opened by your best friend from your teenage years? Would you be shocked or gracious? Mistrustful or grateful? Helen, Annie and Laura are about to find out.

(c) Gráinne Murphy

Author photograph (c) Egle Laukyte

About Greener by Gráinne Murphy:

Greener

As teenagers, Helen, Annie and Laura were inseparable, bonding over family, boys, and their dreams for the future. But when school ended, so did their friendship.

Twenty-five years later, a snowstorm forces the three women to spend time together, leaving them wondering if they can reconcile the gap between who they are and who they used to be.

GREENER is an exploration of the changing dynamics of adult friendships and asks whether old friends can ever let us become new people.

‘A thoughtful meditation on what happens to old friendships when you make yourself a new life. Insightful, believable and raw, there are questions here about all of our lives’ Joanna Glen, the author of The Other Half of Augusta Hope

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Gráinne grew up and currently resides in rural West Cork, working as a self-employed language editor specialising in human rights and environmental issues. Some of Gráinne’s earlier novels were shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award 2019, the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2019, the Luke Bitmead Bursary 2016 and the Virginia Prize for Fiction 2014. In short fiction, her story Further West placed third in the Zoetrope All-Story Contest 2018, and was long-listed for the Sunday Times Audible short story award in 2021. Gráinne’s last novel, Winter People, was published by Legend Press in 2022.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books