Friday, May 11, 2007

McGahern's Amongst Women

John McGahern, Amongst Women, 1990 (Penguin). A very well-written short novel that I read because it won the Irish Times Literary Award. Michael Moran is a former IRA soldier (a long-ago guerrilla, not a hard man of the North) who feels bitter and alienated in modern Ireland. He is a highly conceptualized, allegorical figure, standing in for a certain part of Ireland itself. He is emotionally austere and estranged from his oldest son, but far from a monster, capable of warmth and very loyal but committed to a minimalist lifestyle that reflects a history of poverty even as prosperity slowly blossoms around him. His Catholic faith is his staff and a matriline of women is his world. His sin is pride, that shuts him off from almost the entire world outside of his family. A deep theme in Irish literature is displacement, the presence of incongruous elements in the Irish character, vestiges of another world, another Irish reality, that is felt more than understood. This novel is a near-perfect crystallization of that theme. Compare this one to Aidan Higgins's Langrishe, Go Down (1966); Catholic and Protestant versions of the Irish eulogy.

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