30 March 2006

Writer John McGahern dies suddenly aged 72


30/03/2006 - 13:47:14

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe award-winning novelist and playwright John McGahern has died in hospital in Dublin at the age of 72.

McGahern, who was regarded as Ireland's finest living writer, is understood to have died suddenly this afternoon following a battle with cancer.

He was born in Dublin in 1934, but grew up and spent most of his life in Co Leitrim.

In 1990, his best-known novel, Amongst Women, was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

His most recent novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun, was published in 2001 and was nominated for the IMPAC award.

McGahern was a member of Aosdana and has won a string of accolades, including the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and the Prix Etranger Ecureuil.

He has also taught at universities in the United States, Canada, England, and Ireland.


Literary Encyclopedia

John McGahern

Active 1963- in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, England, Britain, Spain, Europe, North America

The novelist, short-story writer and playwright John McGahern was born in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, as one of five children. McGahern was raised in counties Leitrim and Roscommon, educated at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and University College Dublin, and later worked as a primary schoolteacher in Clontarf, Dublin (1955-64). His first novel, The Barracks, appeared in 1963. His second, The Dark (1965), provoked great controversy and was banned under Ireland’s censorship legislation. After writing this novel McGahern was dismissed from his teaching post without explanation and left Ireland for London, where he worked as a labourer, teacher and book reviewer. In 1970 he purchased a small property in County Leitrim which became his home in 1974, the year his third novel, The Leavetaking, appeared. His fourth, The Pornographer, appeared five years later and Amongst Women was published to widespread critical acclaim in 1990. McGahern taught as various British and North American universities throughout the 1970s and 1980s and received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin in 1991, the year his play, The Power of Darkness, was premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. His Collected Stories was published in 1992.

Liam Harte, University of Manchester
Published 08 March 2001


Cleveland Plain Dealer

First memoir is powerful tale of dark Ireland

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
John Dicker

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usJohn McGahern is the greatest Irish writer you've never heard of. His novels - "Amongst Women," "The Barracks" and "The Leavetaking" - paint a very dark yet oddly affectionate portrait of Irish family life in the mid-20th century.

In his first memoir, "All Will Be Well," the author calls the Ireland of his youth a "theocracy in all but name." If anyone can say this without risking hyperbole, it's McGahern, whose books were banned in Ireland from the outset of his career in the early 1960s through the end of the 1970s.

When the government censored McGahern's 1964 novel "The Dark," a bishop saw fit to remove the author from his teaching job. When he turned to his union for support, its members only piled on, telling him "If it was just the auld book, maybe - maybe - we might have been able to do something for you, but with marrying this foreign [read: non-Catholic] woman, you have turned yourself into a hopeless case entirely."

"All Will Be Well" is a departure for McGahern. His motives for turning to memoir are unclear -- perhaps to record a way of life, perhaps to pay tribute to his mother, who died when he was 9, or perhaps to commit a sort of literary patricide against his abusive father. Whatever the reasons, this is indeed a wonderful book.

An ex-IRA man who found a career in the new Irish state's police force, Frank McGahern was self-serving, profoundly stingy and quick to violence. Through surviving letters and his own lucid recollections, McGahern reveals a father whose cruelty was nearly limitless. Even more than the regular beatings, the mundane acts of meanness stand out.

Upon receiving the monthly grocery bill, for example, he'd line up his seven children and read them a complete and mortifying account of everything they'd eaten. Here he is cutting off the butter: "Once four pounds is crossed you can all go and eat dry bread."

Writing well may be the revenge of some, but McGahern indulges no triumphant anger in these pages. His tone is mainly abject astonishment. Readers match him in being astonished that he came through. The boy took comfort in church rituals -- where his father was forced to concede to a higher authority -- rowing a boat in a small river and in books that became keys to life's possibilities.

Of course, luck played an important hand. If not for his father's need for approval from a local Protestant family, McGahern would've been sent to clerk at a Dublin hardware store instead of completing his education. His own good fortune is never lost on McGahern, who came of age in the 1950s when more Irish people emigrated than any other decade that century. "I had become one of the privileged few who had escaped the trains and the cattle boats and was allowed to work in my own country," he writes.

"All Will Be Well" is a dark book about a time and a place when patriarchs, policemen and especially priests were not questioned. In this place and time -- counties Leitrim and Roscommon in the midcentury -- feelings were barely processed, much less discussed. Life, though simple, could be lonely, cold and violent. This book's happy enough ending says much about the mystery of resiliency:

"It is from those days that I take the belief that the best of life is lived quietly," McGahern writes, "where nothing happens but our calm journey through the day, where change is imperceptible and the precious life is everything."

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