This first book-length study of the fiction of John McGahern traces his development as an artist by providing a detailed reading of each of his five novels and three collections of stories. In The Barracks (1963) and The Dark (1965), McGahern's unapologetic eye for shocking truths and his scrupulous preoccupation with style and form made comparisons to the young James Joyce commonplace. The mantle of "silence, exile and cunning" also seemed to fit the young novelist, who was fired from his job and whose second novel was banned. The Leavetaking and The Pornographer won him renewed acclaim in the 1970s, but the breakthrough into recognition as a major novelist - the peer of Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel - did not come until the publication of Amongst Women, which in 1992 won McGahern the prestigious GPA (Guinness Peat Aviation) Prize of 8
Although McGahern's fiction is known primarily in Europe, its recep.
Although McGahern's fiction is known primarily in Europe, its reception, significance, and place in literary history, especially in the United States, still remain ambiguous and controversial in spite of support from such literary luminaries as John Updike.
Denis Sampson here situates McGahern's fiction in the tradition of symbolic realism. McGahern's distinctive style is grounded in concrete images of place - the streets of Dublin and the Roscommon-Leitrim countryside, in particular. Images of personal darkness are associated with an acute analysis of the repressive and deadening effects of Irish social forces on individuals, but McGahern's sensitive portraits are illuminated by a resilient and unsentimental sense of self. Many of his novels and short stories interweave the story of one family's history through two generations, and in its epic confrontations, the reader discovers a moral account of post-colonial Ireland. Ultimately, McGahern unveils the elemental patterns of change which govern individual and social life.
As in Beckett, Proust, or Yeats, writers whose presence can be felt in McGahern's work, the sum is greater than the parts, for he is one of those exacting artists who invite the reader to circle back over known territory, searching the familiar narrative for the renewal of imagination itself as the vital and redeeming power. Sampson argues that McGahern's treatment of time and consciousness, of self, story and fictional form, of memory and narrative choice, and of the self-referential autobiographical subject define this integrated set of fictions as the work of a major and underrated artist. This study sheds much-needed light on the enigmatic figure of John McGahern for scholars and students of contemporary Irish literature, European modern literature, and contemporary fiction.