John McGahern 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. His earlier work marked him as one of the great writers of claustrophobia. His novels tend to evoke small places - single houses or tiny communities - and to crush into those places a set of family and moral ties that make them feel even smaller and tighter. He can catch the way larger pressures - the Church, the Irish state in the early years of independence - apply to those enclosed spaces. He is also a master of the anger that comes from being shut in, pinned down, or forced to replicate at a local scale a set of larger structures of authority which have their centres elsewhere. All of these things make him also a great writer about maleness, about the complex kinds of covertly competitive sociability that men can get up to in public. He has a fine touch when it comes to representing the apparently innocent blank drift that can enable men insouciantly to do things which turn out to be terrible. The earlier work also describes the rage and lust which men can feel and inflict on others - passions that are inexplicable to both victims and perpetrators.
LRB 20 October 2005 | PDF Download