A small, vivid world

by Henry Farrell on March 30, 2006

John McGahern “has just died”:http://www.rte.ie/arts/2006/0330/mcgahernj.html. I knew that he’d been ill; he had been supposed to come to Washington DC a couple of weeks ago, but his trip was cancelled at short notice. This recent “Jonathan Yardley review”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/09/AR2006030901841.html of his memoirs give some flavour of the man.

bq. His mother hoped that he would become a priest and say Mass for her, but his life took a different direction. In his early teens, he discovered reading, “a strange and complete happiness when all sense of time is lost,” much of which he did floating on the nearby river in a small boat. Gradually “a fantastical idea” formed in his mind: “Why take on any single life — a priest, a soldier, teacher, doctor, airman — if a writer could create all these people far more vividly? In that one life of the mind, the writer could live many lives and all of life. . . . Instead of being a priest of God, I would be the god of a small, vivid world. I must have had some sense of how outrageous and laughable this would appear to the world, because I told no one, but it did serve its first purpose — it set me free.”

bq. McGahern has taken full advantage of that freedom. He has published six novels and four collections of short stories, received numerous honors and much well-deserved praise. He is regarded as one of Ireland’s finest contemporary writers, not least because he writes about his native land with such clarity and honesty. His difficult childhood informs much of his work — in particular his best-known novel, The Dark (1965) — but in that as in this memoir, he seeks not to exploit his past but to understand it and to make it pertinent and meaningful to others.

{ 1 comment }


strewelpeter 03.31.06 at 7:33 am

I’m very sad to see John gone, he’s been a great inspiration and joy to me for many years now. I’m sad that there will be no more of his great writings and no more his beautiful readings and chat.
To hear him read from and talk about his work has been such a great joy, I would recommend to anyone thinking of reading or re reading to go and have a little listen and familiarise yourself with his voice, you will find then that the words slip off the page with the fluidity and depth of his voice.

While I’m sad, I’m also glad that we have so much to celebrate and I’m safe in the knowledge that his work will live on for as long as people are reading.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal séimh.

Here are some (Real Audio)links to some readings and interviews from RTE you might enjoy.

John McGahern’s selections as the guest on Rattlebag’s The Last Friday programme in August 2005

Rattlebag: Listen to a special programme on John McGahern broadcast in September 2005

The News page where they were posted, there are some more links there.

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