Not to long ago I was speaking to the owner of a B and B in Dingle about what drew me to make a trip to Ireland. I told her it was in part my love of Irish literature. She at once went to her book shelves picked up a copy of Amongst Women by John McGahern and said she was deeply moved by this book and its depiction of an Irish family. She urged me to read it soon. Many of my Irish Q and A subjects also strongly endorsed his work.
I do see this as a modern masterpiece of Irish literature. The depiction of the Irish family are so subtle and so brilliantly done with the smallest of touches that I do not see how anyone can approach or talk about this book with out a great sense of reference. There are seven core characters in the story. Moran, the father who we meet as a widower, his second wife Rose, his three daughters and his two
Sons. I have spoken a lot, maybe too much, about the role of the weak or missing Irish father as a dominant theme of modern Irish literature. Moran is as unmissing a father as one could find, he is if anything too present in his children's lives. His character is very complex under simplicity. He can be brutal, especially on his sons. One of them, Luke, was driven forever never to return or seek contact to London by the father''s brutal beatings. I was repulsed when I learned he forced his sons to strip naked before he beat them. It is hard to see why his daughters love him so much -is it guilt or gratitude? The setting is rural Ireland on a farm and the bonding through shared labor is intertwined with the family love. I came to feel something strong for everyone in the story. I do not admire how Moran beat his boys but I know he was treated in the same way and I know he would have given his life for his family.
The prose style, which I am pressed to describe, fits the story perfectly. The story line was somehow very gripping as I wanted at all times to know what would happen next. The close is deeply moving.
This is not a long or complexly plotted work but because of the amazing emotional depth of the work and how it makes us ponder our own roles in our families, it is a difficult book. I think it might make an excellent book for an honors English high school class.
I have a copy of his collected short stories and I am slowly working my way through it.
The next Irish novel I will post on will be Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe.
Please share your thoughts on the work of McGahern with us.