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No Way Out

Colin Burrow: John McGahern

20 October 2005
Memoir 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 272 pp., £16.99, September 2005, 0 571 22810 0
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... JohnMcGahern is an extraordinary writer of charm and violence. His most recent novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002), has a looseness and a gaiety which it took him nearly seventy years to allow himself ...

Alphabetical

Daniel Soar: John McGahern

21 February 2002
That They May Face the Rising Sun 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 298 pp., £16.99, January 2002, 0 571 21216 6
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... having survived because of the local coal; then Rooskey, on the edge of Co. Roscommon, with its bridge over the river; until at last you get to Roscommon town, somewhere you might have heard of. JohnMcGahern’s new novel demands a kind of triangulation if you’re to make sense of it. Carrick-on-Shannon is (perhaps) a short drive away; in the other direction you’ll get to Longford in a while ...

Diary

Anne Enright: Censorship in Ireland

21 March 2013
... it, and said that he did. Then he put the watch back. My father said: ‘So. Could you tell me what it is?’ ‘No,’ said the man, and he shook out his newspaper, leaving my father to walk away. JohnMcGahern went to London in 1954 to work for a few months on the building sites: ‘When I walked off the boat at Holyhead to the waiting London train – and thought of Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens ...

Street Wise

Pat Rogers

3 October 1985
Hawksmoor 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 218 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 241 11664 3
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Paradise Postponed 
by John​ Mortimer.
Viking, 374 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 670 80094 5
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High Ground 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 156 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 571 13681 8
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... symmetry becomes a perfect mirror-image in the story, as when a 1980s character reverses the journey which Dyer makes from London to Stonehenge. A sign of the times, by the way, that both Ackroyd and John Fowles, in his latest novel, should send their Georgian creations crawling about Stonehenge, which not long ago would have seemed one of the purest un-Augustan activities. Ackroyd has taken Hawksmoor ...
8 November 1979
The Pornographer 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 252 pp., £4.95
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... the battle to write explicitly about sex was fought long and hard. We must never begin to surrender that victory.’ The argument strikes one as considerably less silly when removed to the context of JohnMcGahern’s fiction. One may never know why the narrator of McGahern’s new novel chooses to write pornography for a Dublin magazine – one may never quite believe that such a decent sad fellow ...
8 October 1992
The Collected Stories 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 408 pp., £14.99, October 1992, 0 571 16274 6
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... One of JohnMcGahern’s stories begins thus: ‘There are times when we see the small events we look forward to – a visit, a wedding, a new day – as having no existence but in the expectation. They are to be, they ...

Self-Effacers

John​ Lanchester

24 May 1990
Chicago Loop 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 183 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 241 12949 4
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Lies of Silence 
by Brian Moore.
Bloomsbury, 194 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 7475 0610 8
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Amongst Women 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 184 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14284 2
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The Condition of Ice 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 170 pp., £12.95, April 1990, 0 436 19989 0
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... mentioned coolness and lucidity of his style. A prose more intensely wrought would have injected an element of the energy which makes attractive fictional monsters as disparate as Richard III and John Self. Chicago Loop (terrific title) is another book that has a cold, clear surface and a lurking nastiness underneath. Its central character, Parker Jagoda (terrific name), is a 37-year old architect ...

Gaelic Gloom

Colm Tóibín: Brian Moore

10 August 2000
Brian Moore: The Chameleon Novelist 
by Denis Sampson.
Marino, 344 pp., IR£20, October 1998, 1 86023 078 4
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... then, that the three finest novels to appear in Ireland between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s were about middle-aged women suffering. They were Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955), JohnMcGahern’s The Barracks (1961) and Aidan Higgins’s Langrishe, Go Down (1966). It is no coincidence, either, that the best novels about men in the period after independence dealt with figures in ...

Like a Failed Cake

Edmund Gordon: Keith Ridgway

6 December 2012
Hawthorn & Child 
by Keith Ridgway.
Granta, 282 pp., £12.99, July 2012, 978 1 84708 741 6
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... Keith Ridgway used to be compared to JohnMcGahern for his dourly lyrical stories of a changing Ireland. (‘Fr Devoy nodded his head and sipped his tea and waited. He watched the sky move and thought he saw rain in the distance but could not be sure ...

Little Red Boy

Elizabeth Lowry: Alistair MacLeod

20 September 2001
Island: Collected Stories 
by Alistair MacLeod.
Cape, 434 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 224 06194 1
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No Great Mischief 
by Alistair MacLeod.
Vintage, 262 pp., £6.99, June 2001, 0 09 928392 1
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... Alistair MacLeod is a Canadian of Scottish descent, and, like JohnMcGahern who has written a foreword to his collected stories, an astute observer of a very specific local setting – Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; of its landscape and industry, its closed communities, quotidian ...

Dykes, Drongs, Sarns, Snickets

David Craig: Walking England

20 December 2012
The English Lakes: A History 
by Ian Thompson.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £16.99, March 2012, 978 1 4088 0958 7
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The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot 
by Robert Macfarlane.
Hamish Hamilton, 432 pp., £20, June 2012, 978 0 241 14381 0
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... and Ben Macdhui louring above the path, with the promised land of river meadows and white houses glowing in the vee of the col beneath the cloud-wrack. It is not. Instead we are given bits of JohnMcGahern and John Nash, Neil Gunn and Nan Shepherd and Edward Thomas and Adam Nicolson, and the place itself is disappeared: ‘To my mind the Pools [of Dee] possess a near supernatural presence, recalling ...

Demented Brothers

Declan Kiberd: William Trevor

8 March 2001
The Hill Bachelors 
by William Trevor.
Viking, 245 pp., £15.99, October 2000, 0 670 89256 4
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... at the mid-point of the century is masterly: ‘The past receded a little with the day; time yet unspent was left to happen as fearfully as it would.’ In the hands of such writers as Trevor and JohnMcGahern, the short story in Ireland has made an unexpected comeback. Earlier generations – that of Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain and, before them, of George Moore and James Joyce – had ...

Après-Mao

Michael Hofmann: Yiyun Li

14 June 2017
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life 
by Yiyun Li.
Hamish Hamilton, 208 pp., £14.99, February 2017, 978 0 241 28395 0
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... arguments with books, a fondness, she says, for the autobiographical writings of writers – the non-Li. It seems she is most drawn to Irish and Russian writers: William Trevor, Elizabeth Bowen, JohnMcGahern; Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Gorky, though her pantheon is unpredictable and expands to take in Hardy and Mansfield, some oddly straightforward passages from the letters of Philip Larkin or ...

Gallivanting

Karl Miller: Edna O’Brien

22 November 2012
Country Girl: A Memoir 
by Edna O’Brien.
Faber, 339 pp., £20, September 2012, 978 0 571 26943 3
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... Provos’ meets the case here. It took courage, too, to disobey the Catholic hierarchy, the priesthood so outraged by her pursuit of pleasure. The absolution and reverence that came to the novelist JohnMcGahern from the penitent monsignors who used to persecute him has yet to be granted to Edna, though I expect it will come. It may not last till the millennium, but for the time being at least, the ...
20 November 1980
Selected Poems 1956-1975 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 136 pp., £3.95, October 1980, 0 571 11644 2
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Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 224 pp., £7.95, October 1980, 0 571 11638 8
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... in England and been blessed by the imprimatur of better-than-average English reviews. And while it is true that some American magazines, notably the New Yorker, have welcomed the talents of JohnMcGahern, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Edna O’Brien and Benedict Kiely, among others, one could give long odds against a manuscript by an unknown Irish novelist or poet seeing the light of first publication ...

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