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Moran is an old Republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past.


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Moran is an old Republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past.

30 review for Amongst Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    This tale of a curmudgeonly Irish father and his effect on his five children was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1990. While reading it, at first I thought of A Man Called Ove, another curmudgeon. But Ove was not a father and he softened up over time. Michael, this father, did not. As the story went along I thought more of Stoner; even though no one would call Stoner a curmudgeon, but, I thought: this is his life, this is the way he is; this is the way things are; it is what it is; he’s not This tale of a curmudgeonly Irish father and his effect on his five children was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1990. While reading it, at first I thought of A Man Called Ove, another curmudgeon. But Ove was not a father and he softened up over time. Michael, this father, did not. As the story went along I thought more of Stoner; even though no one would call Stoner a curmudgeon, but, I thought: this is his life, this is the way he is; this is the way things are; it is what it is; he’s not going to change; what do you expect? Michael is a farmer. He has small pension from having been in the Irish Army, but money is tight. He spends his days in backbreaking work dawn to dusk on his family farm, bringing in hay, tending the animals, mostly cattle. We learn quickly that he is the master of his roost. His wife and three daughters wait on him. He is served food first at a separate table and the rest of the family eats together afterwards. He is stern and has ‘black moods;’ “…silence and deadness would fall on them” when he walks into a room. If a dish is dropped in the kitchen everyone freezes and looks to him for his reaction. His wife feels “inordinately grateful when he behaves normally” and “inordinately grateful for the slightest goodwill.” Yet his girls and youngest boy love him especially in those rare moments when he might dance around the room. Perhaps he is manic depressive? The father says grace before and after meals. He leads the family in Catholic prayer every evening – a full rosary on their knees. His blackest moods come about most often when he thinks of his prodigal son, the oldest boy who ran off to London and never came back. (view spoiler)[ The son keeps in contact with his brother and sister but never comes back home. He sees his father once at one of his sister’s weddings and they speak politely for a minute. They exchange one polite letter. That’s it. He does not attend his father’s funeral. (hide spoiler)] The girls and his wives accept his dominance; the boys rebel. All his children will eventually leave home to get work. The prodigal son owns a business renovating houses in London. The oldest daughter is a nurse in London; she visits home two or three times a year. The two younger girls get civil service jobs in Dublin and they come home every weekend until they both marry. The youngest boy, spoiled by his three older sisters and the second wife, rebels in a big way. (view spoiler)[When he is only fifteen, he takes up with an experienced 22-year old girl visiting back home for the summer from New York. The boy stops attending school and flees to London with help from his sister and brother living there. But unlike the oldest son, he makes up with his father and frequently returns home. (hide spoiler)] One daughter also rebels a bit as she gets older; she resents her father discouraging her from taking a scholarship to go to university. The story is a wrap-around. It begins with the family gathering for what may be their last get-together with their father. It ends with that gathering, his death and funeral. There’s good writing: “She was as far from ugliness as she was from beauty and she was young and strong and spirited.” There’s humor: When he lets his second wife set the wedding date, she notes that “…he was more like a man listening to a door close than one going toward his joy.” And “The man’s head was designed to keep his ears apart.” Most of the story is told by an omniscient narrator with focus alternating on the characters. For example we get his courting of his second wife from her point of view (or, I should say her courting of him) and the young son’s escapades are told from his from his perspective. The author has an easy, understated style of writing, quite a bit like his countryman, William Trevor. The story is slow at times and a few scenes get repetitive – such as too many weekend visits by the daughters -- but all in all a first-class read. The Guardian considered Amongst Women one of the all-time 100 best novels in a 2015 list. McGahern’s first novel, The Dark, was banned in Ireland for its content related to family sexual abuse. The geographical setting is in northwest Ireland near Sligo, near the coast and close to the border with Northern Ireland. This is near where the author (1934-2006) grew up, in Ballinamore, County Leitrim. Top photo, Sligo, from cloudfront.net/originals/erasmus-expe... Landscape painting by Charles J. McAuley from woolleyandwallis.co.uk The author from /i.guim.co.uk/ Main street in Ballinamore, the author's home town, from wikimedia commons

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Did you read any great novels recently about a thoroughly decent man? A guy who wasn’t violent and treated everyone with humanity and tried to look on the bright side? No, me neither. That is why Ulysses is so great. Leopold Bloom is that guy, always trying the cheer up his fellow struggler, always looking on the bright side. This is another – another – story about a patriarch and how his family must dance around him on hot coals fearing the wrath and looking lively whenever he bestoweth his gla Did you read any great novels recently about a thoroughly decent man? A guy who wasn’t violent and treated everyone with humanity and tried to look on the bright side? No, me neither. That is why Ulysses is so great. Leopold Bloom is that guy, always trying the cheer up his fellow struggler, always looking on the bright side. This is another – another – story about a patriarch and how his family must dance around him on hot coals fearing the wrath and looking lively whenever he bestoweth his glance. Boy do these daughters ever love and fear their dear deadly Daddy. And haven’t we had our bellyful of these vast unpleasant fathers anyhow? What with Hamlet and his usurped ghost, and King Lear all done up like a kipper, and Mr Dombey wanting the daughter to be a boy, and Patrick Melrose absolutely hating on his father his whole life, and the ridiculous Anse Bundren hauling his dead wife around, and Mr Biswas boring everyone to death, and Edward Spencer in his crumbling hotel, and Lord Groan in his ghastly Gormenghast. And let’s not mention The Handmaid’s Tale. Occasionally we are blessed with goodhearted fathers, how pleasant and delightful to meet them – Nariman Vakeel in Family Matters, Charles Pooter in the ineffable Diary of a Nobody, Pa Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. But mostly, literature puts daddies through the wringer. That’s okay by me, I should say, mostly they deserve it. I shall be dancing in the street when patriarchy is overthrown. Isn’t it nauseating to see this world tossed around by these big daddies trying to out-penis each other? If it isn’t Saddam Hussein versus George Bush, it’s Vladimir Putin versus all comers (come on. I ain’t scared of any of ya). If it ain’t him it’s the next guy. So the macho dance goes on. None of those guys seem to have read these trenchant dissections of masculinity in all these novels. Did they not get Moby Dick? The clue is in the title. Still, I could have done without this novel. The depredations of Michael Moran are ordinarily nasty, nothing to speak of, a trillion households will be like this, the daughters trembling and the sons fighting and leaving, who cares. In the end I didn’t care. Okay, the life of a small farmer in 40s to 60s Ireland (as far as I can guess) was prettily detailed, the author sure knows his haymaking and his rural ways. But quite why anyone would put this novel in any list of greatest 100 novels (Robert McCrum) is beyond me. Blah blah blah 2.5 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    This is a short, austere and powerful story of a family dominated by a proud and petty tyrant. I remember seeing some of a bleak TV adaptation many years ago, which left me doubting whether I would enjoy the book, which I read as part of The Mookse and the Gripes group's latest project to discuss a historic Booker shortlist, this time 1990, which was the year when Possession won the prize. Moran is a widowed veteran of the Irish wars of independence who runs a small farm with his five children. T This is a short, austere and powerful story of a family dominated by a proud and petty tyrant. I remember seeing some of a bleak TV adaptation many years ago, which left me doubting whether I would enjoy the book, which I read as part of The Mookse and the Gripes group's latest project to discuss a historic Booker shortlist, this time 1990, which was the year when Possession won the prize. Moran is a widowed veteran of the Irish wars of independence who runs a small farm with his five children. The opening part of the book introduces the family as they get together in his old age to try and revive his failing spirit. It is already clear in this section that he is a proud and difficult man to live with. The rest of the book is chronological, starting when his three daughters and youngest son are teenagers but the eldest son Luke has already left for London. He marries the self-effacing and saintly Rose, who has to do all of the running to get them together but soon forms a powerful bond with the three daughters. Moran's violent temper and unpredictable mood swings are oppressive even to the reader. The story follows Moran as his remaining children move away, with all but the estranged and unforgiving Luke returning to the farm frequently. McGahern eventually succeeds in making you understand why the family tolerate and even love this monster, and by the end of the book one almost feels sorry for him. This is an eloquent and ultimately rather beautiful book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    I thought that this was written superbly neat. Really, this is a good polished book. A character study of an aging father (okay, like me). Then the women (thus, the title and of course with Ireland in the 60's as a setting, the man prays the rosary) around him. Michael Moran served as a guerrilla in an Ireland War of Independence and he is proud of it. Now that this glory days are gone, he is left in his old house with his second wife and his three daughters visit him occasionally. His two sons a I thought that this was written superbly neat. Really, this is a good polished book. A character study of an aging father (okay, like me). Then the women (thus, the title and of course with Ireland in the 60's as a setting, the man prays the rosary) around him. Michael Moran served as a guerrilla in an Ireland War of Independence and he is proud of it. Now that this glory days are gone, he is left in his old house with his second wife and his three daughters visit him occasionally. His two sons are distant from him, literally and figuratively. Halfway in my reading, I thought that I was not relating to Moran. He is a soldier (I am not), he has sons (I don't have), he works in the field (I don't) but oh, the way he retreats to himself when faced with issues that he, for whatever reason, cannot confront. Honestly, I do that. Then I realized, looking back, some scenes just came rushing back to my mind... my father used to do that too. And my wife's father, and my friend's father. It's different when at work that you are compelled to face all the issues because that is your job like my job as a manager in the office. But not when things are personal and you don't have that wall to protect yourselves from pain or possibly for giving pain especially to your loved ones. I like this kind of book. That when you are reading, it is as if you are not just holding a book but a mirror as well. Books that can make you realize who you are and how you sometimes behave that hurt other people. Moran in the story thinks that by retreating, issues are solved since people are unhurt. However, he (and me sometimes) is not aware that silence is also a statement. Silence does not always translate to tranquility. Silence or stillness can also mean turbulence. That's what makes this book, unique. It's a simple book but it speaks to me personally as a man, as a father, as a friend. Well done, McGahern. I will surely pick another book by you if I see one in our bookstores. Darn, why did I only know you now?

  5. 5 out of 5

    MK

    The book and the movie had many mostly small differences. Some things left out, some things added in, some things in a different order, some things between characters different in the series than they were in the book. All of which added up to different stories, almost. Almost, but not quite. Interesting Moran's idea of 'the family'. And 'the house'. It almost seemed like 'the house' was a character in and of itself. "Don't embarass yourself, and don't embarrass the house.", one of the children i The book and the movie had many mostly small differences. Some things left out, some things added in, some things in a different order, some things between characters different in the series than they were in the book. All of which added up to different stories, almost. Almost, but not quite. Interesting Moran's idea of 'the family'. And 'the house'. It almost seemed like 'the house' was a character in and of itself. "Don't embarass yourself, and don't embarrass the house.", one of the children is told, when she goes out to a dance. (paraphrasing) Interesting too, the way he accepts every one of the children's choices of spouse, "If it'll do you, it'll do me.", he says each time. It seemed like alcohol was a sub-theme of the book. Moran doesn't drink anymore - he used to. He tells McQuaid when McQuaid (his old lieutenant from the war for independence) comes for Monaghan Day, that he can't drink anymore. In many ways, the author makes clear, that Moran's need to hold himself separate from the rest of his community is not a common thing for the time, or for the place. Anyway, interesting book. ------------ picked up from the library. ISBN # is 0140092552, or 978014092554, which is tied to this edition, but that cover isn't the book in my hand, the cover on this card is. The date on this card is wrong tho, it says 1991 published, copyright in book says 1990 ... Anyway, this is the book I checked out. Interestingly, they mounted the paperback cover onto a hardcover cardboard, and then mounted the book inside. Kinda ingenious ... Have already watched the BBC series, looking forward to reading the book now. ------------ My home library didn't have this title, but the state-wide catalog did - it also had a DVD series available, which I requested in addition to the book. The DVD arrived, still waiting on the book. The DVD is a "Parallel Films production for BBC Northern Ireland in association with RTÉ and Bord Scannán na hÉireann", according to the state-wide library catalog. On IMDB, it's described as a 4-episode television series. I normally don't like to 'watch' a book before I read the book, but ... I popped it in anyway. Watched episode one so far, it's really good!

  6. 4 out of 5

    JimZ

    I have read two books by Jon McGahern previous to this, The Barracks (1963) and in 2002, That They May Face the Rising Sun (US version of that book called ‘By The Lake’). I liked them a great deal. McGahern is a highly-respected Irish author (in its obituary the Guardian described him as 'arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett'). This book was well-written. It was somber – it was about a father and husband, Michael Moran, who was so angry about things that he took things I have read two books by Jon McGahern previous to this, The Barracks (1963) and in 2002, That They May Face the Rising Sun (US version of that book called ‘By The Lake’). I liked them a great deal. McGahern is a highly-respected Irish author (in its obituary the Guardian described him as 'arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett'). This book was well-written. It was somber – it was about a father and husband, Michael Moran, who was so angry about things that he took things out on his second wife (there was no mention as far as I could tell about his first wife other than she had died) and his four children. There was always an air of crisp tension throughout the book – you knew if he were in a good mood it would not last and you wondered when it would break or what would break it. Who he would verbally attack next? Early on in his second marriage he seemed to on purpose push the envelope with his second wife Rose so as to humiliate her and then to draw back when he knew he went too far (but he didn’t seem to be necessarily sorry that he went too far), and then he would say “I’m sorry” and would dial it back. He never hit her and I would hesitate to call it blatant verbal abuse, or that she was terrified of him. I think she loved him quite a bit, and was walking on eggshells around him, but I guess she derived something from their marriage. It might have been his 3 girls who she liked a lot as well as his younger son. His older son Luke had left the house after Michael Moran had given him a humiliating beating never to return. Several quotes that resonated with me from the book: He had not been able to go out and be at ease with people. What she did not know was that Moran, with his good looks and military fame, had once been king of these barn dances and now that he had neither youth nor fame would not take a lesser place. He would not take part at all. About Rose… “Now most of her pleasure and all of her pain flowed through him. For her there was always a strange excitement in his presence of something about to happen. Nothing was ever still. She felt inordinately grateful when he behaved normally.” After he humiliated Rose in front of his girls she quietly left the room. He went to her hours later… “I never heard such nonsense, he blustered ‘Are you taking everything up as serious as some of the other people in this house? Does every move have to be Judgment Day?” Rose: ‘I was told I was no use in the house. I couldn’t go on living in a place where I was no use,’ she spoke with the quietness and desperate authority of someone who had discovered they could give up no more ground and live. (JimZ: After this bullying episode by him, he never said such a harsh thing to her again…she had stood her ground. Incidentally I loved the way McGahern finished that sentence.) The tension of being around him… “As looking down from great heights brings the urge to fall and end the terror of falling, so his very watching put pressure on them to make a slip as they dried and stacked the plates and cups.”

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Really top notch. I only say underrated (McGahern has won several noteworthy prizes) just because I hadn't heard of him and didn't think he'd gotten the recognition he deserves this side of the pond. The writing is beautiful- humane, poised, distant, appraising, tender, complexly simple, Chekovian, minutely realized, lucid, almost translucent in its knowingness, and the characters are drawn as near to life as you can get. They have inwardness- McGahern shows, he doesn't tell, and you see them as Really top notch. I only say underrated (McGahern has won several noteworthy prizes) just because I hadn't heard of him and didn't think he'd gotten the recognition he deserves this side of the pond. The writing is beautiful- humane, poised, distant, appraising, tender, complexly simple, Chekovian, minutely realized, lucid, almost translucent in its knowingness, and the characters are drawn as near to life as you can get. They have inwardness- McGahern shows, he doesn't tell, and you see them as they fluctuate amid each other. The title is from the rosary, of course, but its also the quietly frustrated, occasionally bitter and abusive state of affairs of Moran, the main character. Moran is a widower but he is also an ex-IRA solider, a fine and intelligent one at that, whose war is over in everywhere but the arena of his bitterness. He's surrounded by women- his three daughters, the middle aged Rose who, undaunted by his gruff, irascible, brittle broodingness, forthrightly agrees to marry him. Indeed, Moran would be the last one to admit it, but she does him the favor of his life by not only making the first move but consistently and selflessly devoting herself to the attention, friendship, and responsibility of Moran's only castle- Great Meadow, his proud and distinctly distant home, and his family where he is equally loathed and respected. It's so true to life. How many times has a friendly, wise, personable woman decided to align herself with a man who is anything but? McGahern captures this real-life paradox with knowing distance (she's a pushover, more times than she should be) and gentleness (she knows there's a better man deep inside Moran, if she could only cull him from Moran's piety, repressed self-hatred, and murky piety). There are two sons, Luke and Michael, who each have warred with the man (figuratively and metaphorically) and found some struggle of tenuous peace. Peace, I should add, which does NOT come dropping slow... What started to really take over for me, as a reader, and maintained its pull was how I read this novel with that sort of hazy clarity which reminds you of moments in your own life which you'd forgotten or repressed for one reason or another. I hate to quote a book blurb, but I really do have to hand it to John Updike's luminous praise, given as the chair of an award panel: "McGahern brings us the tonic gift of the best fiction, the sense of truth- the sense of a transparency that permits us to see imaginary lives more clearly than we see our own." When Moran is angry, disappointed, emotionally wounded, or confused he does what so many men (especially in the era in which Amongst Women takes place, the 50's) automatically do: with stoicism and almost unconscious deliberation, they go to the "cave", as it were. Be it the den, the tool shed, the bar, the garden, the tv room, whatever- they do not run away so much as stomp around inside themselves, mending or fixing or sitting somewhere alone and staring off into space. Moran tends to the fields- it's his cave, it's where he goes to puzzle things out, let off steam. it's where his privacy won't be violated. It's of course the once place where he doesn't violate the privacy of others, which is his curse, but it's also where he takes people in. It reminded me of my grandfather, a stoic, pleasant, repressed, uneducated first-generation Swede who never said much of anything by way of conversation and was maddeningly trite when he did. I think I literally had 2 or 3 5 minute plus conversations with him about anything, and I tried, as did my mother and siblings, in the thirty years I knew him. Not a bad man, or a hard one, as Moran certainly is, but inscrutably... ordinary . One day we were standing on the carpet next to the tv when he said, apropos of nothing, "want to look at my tools"? Uh, sure, let's go. We walked down into the cool, dry, mostly empty basement. He opened the door to his 'shop', pausing to nod at the newspaper clipping taped to the door of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. "I was there when they did that" he said, ambling towards the shelves. (He wasn't, I have on good authority) We stood there as he pointed out his plastic shelves of tiny screws, different lengths of nails, and so on. He showed me his saws, hammers, screwdrivers, one by one. He explained how long they were and how one fit with its proper tool. I didn't say anything- I didn't have anything to say. He turned at one point and said it was his favorite place. "You could get lost in here". That's it. We walked upstairs and that's all I remember. Moran hides in his fields, in his solitude, because the country he fought for is taken over by "small minded gangsters", he refuses his government pension, he barks insults at the daughters whose futures he is frightened of and mistrusts. His constant insistence on praying the rosary is equally as intense as his "who cares, anyway" remark, which he makes on matters relating directly to him and to those around him. He's caught between an indifference he feels politically from the country he was proud of fighting for and has now somehow gone past him and the proud, sullen self-sufficiency he has spent a lifetime accumulating. He has the insecurity about appearances which equally, indelibly marks the intensely private and the deeply embarrassed (not the same thing). I don't know as much about 20th Century Irish politics as I ought to, but the point has been made to De Valerain Home Rule (enclosure, rural insularity, fetishization of old fashioned home and hearth). It does seem interesting, going through the novels which came before, how true it indeed is that the best and brightest seem to feel it existentially necessary to get the hell out of the emerald isle. Exile is a literary theme (and, often enough, political necessity!) all over the 20th Century. I wonder- is Mother Ireland (old sow, farrow-devouring) a microcosm? Or a symptom?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Michael Moran is a hard case. He speaks in terse aphorisms when he isn't dripping in sarcasm. He expects allegiance. He is capable of violence, but as a proscribed punishment, never for its own sake, never in a rage. Above all for him, Family reigns. This caused trouble with his two sons, with one irredeemably. Yet with the women it was different: three daughters and a second wife. For it was said that only women could live with Daddy. I searched for clues how Moran came to be what he was. There w Michael Moran is a hard case. He speaks in terse aphorisms when he isn't dripping in sarcasm. He expects allegiance. He is capable of violence, but as a proscribed punishment, never for its own sake, never in a rage. Above all for him, Family reigns. This caused trouble with his two sons, with one irredeemably. Yet with the women it was different: three daughters and a second wife. For it was said that only women could live with Daddy. I searched for clues how Moran came to be what he was. There was a conversational flashback to some horrors when he fought as an Irish Republican. And a look around at the current state - what we fought for - which could embitter a fella. But I looked instead to the symbolism, how as an old man Moran would look out to his meadow, always to the exact same spot. And how haying that meadow they came upon a hen hidden by the high grass; she looked to be nesting. Only a closer look showed that the mower had cut her legs. That has to mean something, right? There was no music in this novel; it was instead a painting, a painting of unintended consequences.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    Amongst Women by John McGahern is an excellent look at a family’s life in rural Ireland in the 1960s. McGahern writes a quiet sort of novel and yet he address a number of important themes. Moran is an old Republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerrilla leader in the War of Independence. Now in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting but this time with his family, his friends and even himself. I find John McGahern’s sense of time and place exce Amongst Women by John McGahern is an excellent look at a family’s life in rural Ireland in the 1960s. McGahern writes a quiet sort of novel and yet he address a number of important themes. Moran is an old Republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerrilla leader in the War of Independence. Now in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting but this time with his family, his friends and even himself. I find John McGahern’s sense of time and place excellent and I find myself so drawn into his books and stories. I loved how McGahern hints at more than his narrative tells in the story and you are left filling in the gaps. This is a character driven novel and the plot takes a back seat. The characters are so well depicted in this novel and especially that of Moran. Many people reading this novel will have known a “Moran” while growing up in 50/60s rural Ireland. A man who thinks the whole world is out to get him, who rarely shows emotion, who loves his family to the point of losing them and who must also be tiptoed around, his moods must always be weighed up and he must never be challenged for fear of upsetting him. I really got drawn into this novel and its characters. McGahern’s novels are not for every reader, but I really enjoy his writing and his honest look at 50/60s rural Ireland.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dov Zeller

    The central character of this story is central in the way a cloud is central to a storm. Michael Moran, father of five and widower remarried, draws people into familial connection through a dark and dangerous and magnetic moodiness. His daughters, and even perhaps his far away sons, have become trained to believe that this feeling of separateness and isolation that comes from being a part of a deeply dysfunctional family is actually a form of superiority. Moran's youngest son Michael has escaped The central character of this story is central in the way a cloud is central to a storm. Michael Moran, father of five and widower remarried, draws people into familial connection through a dark and dangerous and magnetic moodiness. His daughters, and even perhaps his far away sons, have become trained to believe that this feeling of separateness and isolation that comes from being a part of a deeply dysfunctional family is actually a form of superiority. Moran's youngest son Michael has escaped perhaps the least harmed, as his sisters shielded him from his father for much of his childhood and he ran away not so long after they left. But Moran's eldest son, who left and never returned, leads a life very different from Moran's, but has an air of intensity and withdrawal that sadly hints at his father's. One of the more painful conflictual moments of the book (though there are many) comes when Moran refuses to support his daughter Sheila after she gets accepted to university. If she were to go to university she would be come different and "better" than the family, it would keep all of the family from being on equal, "humble" terms, though Moran is far from humble and what he really means to do is control his daughters' every move. He needs to be the center of attention, and he refuses to be out-shined by any of his children, or to have them be so far from him they are no longer vulnerable to his whims. What Moran says and what Moran does are two very different things, and when he insists on the equality of family members, what he means is, well, everything else. There is a coded life being lived here in which all that is said means nothing in comparison to the tone set by Moran, dictatorial and insistent. A goodreads reviewer posits an interesting theory, or, I will state it in the form of a question. Do we need another book with a shitty father? I don't know how to answer that. I don't tend to think in terms of repetition because I think books and themes are endlessly repetitive. I tend to read books on their own terms, not because every shitty father is different (and all good ones are the same?) in an oft misquoted or misdirected Tolstoyan way, but because each book with a shitty father is a different book. Unhappy or not, family relationships are part of larger equations. Some hint at fable-istic connections, and others resemble more mythical archetypes. This particular relationships is set up I think to show how the political is personal, the historical is personal, and it is also to a certain degree allegorical. Moran is a man who is disillusioned by the political reality. He fought a war with a certain idealism and what he learned was that all sides of the fighting were tied up in corruption. He cannot come to terms with his role as pawn, and so he becomes the master of his own kingdom, his little home, and refuses to let the outside world in except by way of his children who are allowed to bring little pieces of the outside world in, filtered as they are through the eyes of people he trained in how to see and what to say. All of that said, there are ways in which every closed system fails to stay entirely closed, and this is true of Moran. It is not that he changes necessarily over time, but there is a certain mellowing of the rules after his children all leave, because there must be. It is either that, or he has to leave them all behind. The damage that he has done to his family will clearly influence generations, people will be allying themselves with or against Moran and that will influence decision-making and quality of experience for years and years to come. Just so, the political conflicts that are going on, that have brought Moran so much misery, will shift and change but continue to influence life in Ireland on many levels. And what of Moran's misery? Is he too idealistic? Too violent? Did an impractical idealism cause him to be so unhappy? What happens if this kind of idealism is lost? Then is every person for themselves? Is this novel asking us to call into question our deeply held beliefs about how the world should be run? Or are we to feel a certain solidarity with or compassion for Moran's desire to live in a less corrupt world? This book had no plot to speak of and at first I was not drawn to it, but I found after thirty pages or so I couldn't put it down. It was not because I wondered what would happen. But I was drawn into the web of it. Curious to see how the three daughters and two sons, and how Rose, would continue to interact with Moran. It is like a locked-room mystery without the mystery (or the locked room). But it has that feeling of horror and air-less-ness. And yet there is lightness at certain moments too. To see how the siblings try to navigate their strange loyalties to their father and try to help each other escape him, all at the same muddled time. To see the rebellion and yet the inability to leave (they all take their father with them, whether they mean to or not.) And the specialness they feel because of their father's way of setting apart the family from others. That, in the end, may be the most damaging thing to their potential happiness. It is interesting to me that I learned about the author because he wrote the introduction to "Stoner" which I read recently. There are certain tonal similarities between the two writers, but I never had the feeling of awe reading this that I did while reading Stoner. They both hone in on complex and disturbing family dynamics and intertwine them with the larger political landscape in small but poignant ways. Rose, Moran's second wife, is an outsider who becomes an insider, but she's a curious figure in this book. I know there must be a lot to say about her dual role here. She is not as brain-washed and cowed as the Sheila, Mona and Maggie are, and she cares for and protects the children, but she still defends Moran in ways which are troubling. McGahern explores how loyalty works in a family in ways which are quiet and dark and sometimes lit up as by a lightning storm, with occasional bright flashes. Here are some quotes from the book. “These visits of his daughters from London and Dublin were to flow like relief through the house. They brought distraction, something to look forward to, something to mull over after they had gone. Above all they brought the bracing breath of the outside, an outside Moran refused to accept unless it came from the family. Without it there would have been an ingrown waiting. For the girls the regular comings and goings restored their superior sense of self, a superiority they had received intact from Moran and which was little acknowledged by the wide world in which they had to work and live. That unexamined notion of superiority was often badly shaken and in need of restoration each time they came home. Each time he met them at the station his very presence affirmed and reaffirmed again as he kissed them goodbye. Within the house the outside world was shut out. (93) “It was like grasping water to think how quickly the years had passed here. They were nearly gone. It was in the nature of things and yet it brought a sense of betrayal and anger, of never having understood anything uch. Instead of using the fields, he sometimes felt as if the fields had used him. Soon they would be using someone else in his place. It was unlikely to be either of his sons. He tried to imagine someone running the place after he was gone and could not. He continued walking the fields like a man trying to see. (130) “Tears slipped down their faces as they repeated the ‘Our Fathers’ and ‘Hail Marys’. Maggie had begun her Mystery when it grew clear that Moran was trying to speak. She stopped and the room was still. The low whisper was unmistakable: ‘shut up!’ They looked at one another in fear and confusion but Rose nodded vigorously to Maggie to ignore the whispered command and to continue. She managed to struggle back into the rhythm of the prayers when Mona cried out, ‘Daddy’s gone!’ They got up off their knees and stood over the bed. Weeping loudly Maggie and Sheila embraced one another and Mona ran angrily from the room, slamming doors on the way, shouting, ‘That doctor shouldn’t have been let give him that injection this morning.’ Rose turned to Maggie, ‘Would you mind going after Mona to see that she’s all right. I think that must be Michael’s car I hear turning in at the gate. “Some of the anger at the death veered towards Michael as soon as he appeared in the hallway. Being left on the periphery of what was happening he had become bored and driven to town with his son. ‘You’re a nice gentleman. You couldn’t even manage to be in the house when Daddy was going.’ He did not realize at first what had taken place and put up his hands in jocose surrender to these fierce and impossible women but wen very pale and still as soon as he understood that his father had just died. Gently Rose opened the door to the room and he nodded silently to her and went in. The she took his son by the hand. The child and woman went from the room to room until they had stopped each clock in the house and covered every mirror.” (180) “All through the night they kept vigil by his side. Time should have stopped with the clocks but instead it moved in a glazed dream of tiredness without their ticking insistence. Morning stole over the fields. The callers continued coming to the house throughout the day. At six the body would be taken to the church. As it drew closer to six the minutes seemed to race.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anu

    I like controversial books, amongst other things. Not that this is, really, but I remember picking it up on a hot summer day in a book market, where the only thing I knew about McGahern, really, was that his books were considered controversial. The other reason I was drawn to it is because my knowledge of Irish history is incomplete, to say the least. I had to spend some time researching what Monaghan Day actually was, amongst other things. I think it's also important that I mention here that my I like controversial books, amongst other things. Not that this is, really, but I remember picking it up on a hot summer day in a book market, where the only thing I knew about McGahern, really, was that his books were considered controversial. The other reason I was drawn to it is because my knowledge of Irish history is incomplete, to say the least. I had to spend some time researching what Monaghan Day actually was, amongst other things. I think it's also important that I mention here that my notes on this are about four years old, although that's neither here nor there. Another thing that I should mention is that I don't particularly like books about functional families. For one, I don't think every family is dysfunctional in its own way, not to sound like Tolstoy. For another, I just don't find them particularly fun to read. Family is complicated. All relationships are. The same can be said for Moran and his family. Obviously this is by no means a justification of Moran's behaviour. I would not like him if I knew him in person, and I would definitely not make excuses for him. Perhaps, that is the charm of dysfunctional families in books. You don't have to justify their behaviour, and yet, you can still humanise them, somewhat. All of the books I've liked, that revolve around families, they have that in common. Dysfunction. On this his wedding day he seemed strangely  at peace. It was as if he needed this quality of attention to be fixed upon him in order to be completely silent. I think the technical term to describe Michael Moran is "son of a bitch". He isn't what I would call a good person, although that doesn't necessarily make him a bad person either. He's difficult, although in his own difficult way, he does love his family. More than anything, he misses the good old days. And this is why he cherishes Monaghan Day, whence he gets to relive the days of glory. Or well at least, he did. Obviously, none of this is in defence of him being a son of a bitch, but then again, I don't really think you're supposed to like the man. I think he just is. Like Blindness, a book I read at the same time as this one, McGahern doesn't really name all his characters. Only the ones that matter, the Morans. Rose's relatives, for instance are not described by name--only by title, as "the married sister" or the "tall, silent brothers". I think this is to further reiterate the importance of his family to Moran; after all, it is his story and his family. It is also possible, as it always is, that I could be reading too much into it. There are books that I enjoy because of the rich, evocative writing, and less often, books that I do for the opposite reason--simple words strung together to make simple sentences. Amongst Women definitely falls into the latter category, and that is the reason it works. Like Moran himself, the book is one of few words, curt and on-point. It's not very long either, and in this case, it doesn't, shouldn't have to be. (view spoiler)[I think it is interesting that the book comes full circle, what with Michael the father dying, and Michael the son mirroring his father. (hide spoiler)] I don't know or think that the message of the book is the circle of life, or that there's any message at all. But it's nice, simple, clean to think so. Unlike life itself. The other lesson, of course, is that all writers that aren't American are just better at describing food on paper.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Allan

    I hadn't come across this book until I received it as a gift from a Goodreads friend, but I found it both a poignant and powerful read. Set in rural Ireland over a lengthy period in the mid 20th century, it tells the story of the family of Moran, a man who fought in the War of Independence as the head of a flying column, but was left behind by the bureaucrats once the struggle was won, and who now farms in the west of Ireland. From the earliest point in the narrative, we see that Moran's relations I hadn't come across this book until I received it as a gift from a Goodreads friend, but I found it both a poignant and powerful read. Set in rural Ireland over a lengthy period in the mid 20th century, it tells the story of the family of Moran, a man who fought in the War of Independence as the head of a flying column, but was left behind by the bureaucrats once the struggle was won, and who now farms in the west of Ireland. From the earliest point in the narrative, we see that Moran's relationship with his family is a complex one. His eldest child, Luke, has already become estranged from his father, and his three daughters, Maggie, Mona and Sinead and son, Michael, live in the shadow of his moods. A widower early in life, his contraryness is very much in evidence throughout his 'courtship' of Rose, who on marrying him becomes a rock in the house of Great Meadow. As the years pass, McGahern does a great job in conveying how rural life really doesn't change that much, and emphasises the rigid routine within the family, yet is able to chart each member's life journey, children of whom Moran is proud, yet more often than not, children who are effected by his actions in negative ways. Despite this, the overriding feeling is one of a tight knit group, with particularly the females in the family being devoted to their patriarch to the very end. This is a short but amazingly rich and complex novel. There are many stories of Irish men of Moran's generation who struggle to express themselves emotionally, but none that I've come across that do so as successfully. As a reader, I felt both distaste at many of Morgan's actions, yet compassion as his love for his family was evident throughout. While Moran is an extreme case, I'd say that there are few people who read this novel who grew up in any part of Ireland who haven't seen some of his traits in their own father. Definitely a book that I'd recommend to others, and a great way to start my 2015 reading year.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathrina

    A short book, but claustrophobic in its persistent domestic dysfunction, its unrelentingly dissatisfied central character, its unsympathetic disdain for chapter breaks. Irish Catholic patriarchs are a breed apart, but a specific breed nonetheless -- my childhood best friend's father was the living manifestation of Moran, at sea in a household of mostly women, who turned to him for direction and a sense of purpose, needing him to feel necessary and connected while at the same time resenting it. M A short book, but claustrophobic in its persistent domestic dysfunction, its unrelentingly dissatisfied central character, its unsympathetic disdain for chapter breaks. Irish Catholic patriarchs are a breed apart, but a specific breed nonetheless -- my childhood best friend's father was the living manifestation of Moran, at sea in a household of mostly women, who turned to him for direction and a sense of purpose, needing him to feel necessary and connected while at the same time resenting it. Moran's repeated refrain, that all of his children are equal, no one better or more accomplished than another, is both evenly democratic and coldly isolating. A belief that one's family defines one's station, but no one can rise above their station, is both a relief and an obstacle. One makes room for it, as most of Moran's family does, or denies it outright, like Luke, but there is no compromise. I can see why McGahern was selected to write the forward for NYRB's edition of Stoner, even though McGahern is distinctly Irish and Williams is distinctly American, the writing in both is patient, lyrical, and meditative. A life is illustrated over decades, and no one great thing happens, but many small things, that add up to the influence of a man whose small circle has felt him deeply.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    "He stood in a cloud of moral injury.” This is a very well-crafted character study of a 1950’s(ish) father in the Republic of Ireland. A former guerilla fighter in the Irish War of Independence, Michael Moran is unhappy with the outcome of his war. He is disappointed with his country, his family, his neighbors, and pretty much everything. I’ll get something petty out of the way first: I didn’t like that there were no chapter divisions. This really bugs me. I like breathing space. I like to pause "He stood in a cloud of moral injury.” This is a very well-crafted character study of a 1950’s(ish) father in the Republic of Ireland. A former guerilla fighter in the Irish War of Independence, Michael Moran is unhappy with the outcome of his war. He is disappointed with his country, his family, his neighbors, and pretty much everything. I’ll get something petty out of the way first: I didn’t like that there were no chapter divisions. This really bugs me. I like breathing space. I like to pause and think when I’m reading a novel, even a short one like this. And when you’re spending so much time with someone like Michael Moran, you really need breathing space. Moran is an oppressive figure. You could consider him a tyrant. But though his two sons struggle to maintain a relationship with him, he is deeply loved by his daughters. It was so interesting to watch how the sons bristled against his overbearing will and the daughters bent to it. “They were mastered, and yet they were controlling together what they were mastered by.” I took this read very personally. When I was growing up, this type of man--the unyielding, dominating, miserable old so-and-so type was a very common figure. Maybe they are less common now. I hope so, yet still, I seem to have a soft spot in my heart for curmudgeons. Am I like the daughters, ready to excuse his bad behavior? And who was the stronger, really? The sons who refused to be controlled, or the daughters who absorbed the anger into themselves and gave it back as love? This is a thoughtful read. You may be surprised when you’re done how much the characters have gotten under your skin.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    “Many of them who had pensions and medals and jobs later couldn’t tell one end of a gun from the other. Many of the men who had actually fought got nothing. An early grave or the emigrant ship. Sometimes I get sick when I see what I fought for.” So it goes, some men provide the victory and the others use the fruits of the victory… The embittered father of the family is a despot and he tries to rule his children with the iron fist, he wants his sons to follow in his footsteps but they run away from “Many of them who had pensions and medals and jobs later couldn’t tell one end of a gun from the other. Many of the men who had actually fought got nothing. An early grave or the emigrant ship. Sometimes I get sick when I see what I fought for.” So it goes, some men provide the victory and the others use the fruits of the victory… The embittered father of the family is a despot and he tries to rule his children with the iron fist, he wants his sons to follow in his footsteps but they run away from despotism and go their own way. In the end his daughters go their own way as well… “It was like grasping water to think how quickly the years had passed here. They were nearly gone. It was in the nature of things and yet it brought a sense of betrayal and anger, of never having understood anything much. Instead of using the fields, he sometimes felt as if the fields had used him. Soon they would be using someone else in his place.” Such is a tragic sum total of the patriarchal tyranny…

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Don't let them pull wool over your eyes. The war was the cold, the wet, standing to your neck in a drain for a whole night with bloodhounds on your trail, not knowing how you could manage the next step towards the end of a long march. That was the war: not when the band played and a bloody politician stepped forward to put flowers on the ground. (p.5) It was like grasping water to think how quickly the years had passed here. They were nearly gone. It was in the nature of things and yet it brough Don't let them pull wool over your eyes. The war was the cold, the wet, standing to your neck in a drain for a whole night with bloodhounds on your trail, not knowing how you could manage the next step towards the end of a long march. That was the war: not when the band played and a bloody politician stepped forward to put flowers on the ground. (p.5) It was like grasping water to think how quickly the years had passed here. They were nearly gone. It was in the nature of things and yet it brought a sense of betrayal and anger, of never having understood anything much. Instead of using the fields, he sometimes felt as if the fields had used him. Soon they would be using someone else in his place. It was unlikely to be either of his sons. He tried to imagine someone running the place after he was gone and could not. He continued walking the fields like a man trying to see. (p.130)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Powerful Irish novel on family and country. Couldn't put it down. Powerful Irish novel on family and country. Couldn't put it down.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Trin

    My Irish Literature tutor at Trinity College (a.k.a., Hot Scottish Tutor Peter Mackay, who hopefully is not reading this) said that this book would have made a better short story than it does a novel. While I enjoyed McGahern's simple, unflashy prose, I'm inclined to agree. The story covers the same ground again and again, and while the monotony of Moran's life may be part of the point, it doesn't make for the most enjoyable read. My Irish Literature tutor at Trinity College (a.k.a., Hot Scottish Tutor Peter Mackay, who hopefully is not reading this) said that this book would have made a better short story than it does a novel. While I enjoyed McGahern's simple, unflashy prose, I'm inclined to agree. The story covers the same ground again and again, and while the monotony of Moran's life may be part of the point, it doesn't make for the most enjoyable read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Barker

    This is a wonderfully written account of a family that lives a brittle, tense existence due to a father who feels marginalised, bitter, an outsider. The way his unpredictable moodiness (which seems almost bi-polar) infects the house, stressing the women (his wife, daughters) and breaking his relationships with his sons, treads the same ground that John McGahern's The Dark did with such aplomb- in fact I think The Dark is a better book, although there is very little in it. I particularly liked the This is a wonderfully written account of a family that lives a brittle, tense existence due to a father who feels marginalised, bitter, an outsider. The way his unpredictable moodiness (which seems almost bi-polar) infects the house, stressing the women (his wife, daughters) and breaking his relationships with his sons, treads the same ground that John McGahern's The Dark did with such aplomb- in fact I think The Dark is a better book, although there is very little in it. I particularly liked the way the author dealt with the idea of separateness- the fact that Moran keeps himself apart from the rest of the village and expects his new wife and kids to do the same- and togetherness- Moran believes his family is an extension of himself. This was, essentially, the way I was brought up, so it was quite emotional reading the story. Yes, there are issues of power-play; of unaware, out-of-control ego on display, but there is also the sad depiction of an outsider, a man who never allows himself a long stretch of happiness because he feels (the echo of) the working-class fear of the workhouse. He insists on the solidarity of the family but it is on his own terms and, as such, will only lead to all his children getting as faraway from him as they can. A devastating portrait of a family and eminently readable.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cphe

    Difficult book in some ways to rate. On one hand the father of this bleak and claustrophobic Irish novel was a hypocrite. You're supposed to want what's best for your children, to hope that they'll be happy and content, that their needs both emotional and physical are met. Didn't appreciate the pivotal character of Michael Moran, he was too damaged to be able to meet any needs but his own. One aspect of Moran that I could readily empathise with was his love of the land. This is more of a characte Difficult book in some ways to rate. On one hand the father of this bleak and claustrophobic Irish novel was a hypocrite. You're supposed to want what's best for your children, to hope that they'll be happy and content, that their needs both emotional and physical are met. Didn't appreciate the pivotal character of Michael Moran, he was too damaged to be able to meet any needs but his own. One aspect of Moran that I could readily empathise with was his love of the land. This is more of a character study of a dysfunctional family. Loved the setting of rural Ireland and the times depicted, found the delivery to be lyrical in parts.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Realini

    Imagining one Amongst Women by John McGahern 10 out of 10 As an opus shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1990 and listed as one of the 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read https://www.theguardian.com/books/200... Amongst Women is clearly one of the best books of the past decades and to make it even more enticing, some algorithm on goodreads recommends it if you are interested in or liked literature by Penelope Fitzgerald – the under signed does not remember what particular work he looked up, but being Imagining one Amongst Women by John McGahern 10 out of 10 As an opus shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1990 and listed as one of the 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read https://www.theguardian.com/books/200... Amongst Women is clearly one of the best books of the past decades and to make it even more enticing, some algorithm on goodreads recommends it if you are interested in or liked literature by Penelope Fitzgerald – the under signed does not remember what particular work he looked up, but being a fan of one writer, he is happy to have become acquainted with the other, with an algorithm as a match maker…granted, with the aforementioned status to vouch for it, the proposition of the artificial friend would have not sufficed… It is beneficial for the reading of a novel to identify with one personage and especially the main character, which is Michael Moran here, a commander of Irish troops during the Troubles – incidentally, the greatest book I admire on the subject is…mesmerizing Troubles by J.G. Farrell http://realini.blogspot.com/2018/02/t... - although in this particular case, we have to cope with a complex figure, one that in fact would be rejected by the X generation, the millennials or whatever they call the youngest of the young now, those who will look at the record of the former Irish Republican Army fighter and say that he was violent, more than conservative, a retrograde, the epitome of another age, sexist, domineering, a bully that believed in the tyrant as the best head of the household, a religious bigot that will not tolerate dissension in ‘his house’ The list of shortcomings appears to be so long that one has to stop, before the need to end the note will force a blanket over the good side of the man, who is more than proud – he refuses to get a pension for his important role in the Troubles, the fight for the independence of Ireland from great Britain, in which we learn about his implication in at least one major event, the elimination of a leader of the British Army, who had arrived at a railway station to watch a parade, just as the guerillas were about to kill him and a number of soldiers caught by surprise – has moral principles, a sense of humor that is evident often – when Mark, the future consort of the elder daughter, Maggie, arrives at Great Meadow, with his Elvis hairdo and fashionable, but preposterous in a village in Ireland anyway, ‘like a figure out of pantomime’ ...Moran says 'we'll have the town poor in the family next' – which exposes his mirthful side, but also the sarcastic, superior, cold, often hostile nature of a dictatorial man… One thought comes to mind now – perhaps among the few benefits of writing such notes, that have little to no echo with others, but prove beneficial for self sometimes…more often will be great, would be that forced to think about the impact, the essence or some aspects of the book just finished one unveils some secrets that escaped one before – regarding the reasons for this sometimes abhorrent behavior of the Irish commander and one explanation will surely be the very participation in the fight, with the PTSD imposed on those who had had to kill people and suffer traumatic experiences, fear, anxiety, the knowledge that they can be dead soon, their actions prompted the British to be more abominable and target women and children – it was not the fault of the IRA, which would bomb innocents later, but they had known what will happen next – and the consequences would be borne by the family. Michael Moran is concentrated on the family, and if this is commendable – studies of the happiest people have shown that they do not have great financial wealth in common, but strong ties with family and friends – it was also to the exclusion of others – the family was proud of the fact that the effect of this isolation was a sense of superiority, when Rose is seen as mingling with so many in the village, they see this as erring to some extent – and Michael Moran is aloof and distant from most of the neighbors and villagers...when they come to see him for final goodbyes, they are curious to look around, for most had never been in his house…indeed, Luke, his eldest son would flee at one point and try to never come back – when pressed by sisters, he explains that the old man is not important for him anymore… The main character is a hardworking man, owner of a farm where he has to care for cattle, ensure food for them and spend long days in the fields, accumulating enough to be comfortable, but feeling the constant fear of famine, due probably to an inbred tendency for abstinence, he never spends but with extreme reluctance – viciously, when Sheila, the youngest of three daughters, has the chance to continue her studies to university level, where she has furthermore won a scholarship, Moran is preventing her from advancing her education, because he highlights that the scholarship would not pay for everything, pressing the girl into an early civil service career, and when he pretends he might help, it is just one example of his continuous change of mood, he is now serene and mirthful, only to become furious and mad the next moment…besides, he has anachronistic, medieval views on the position of women in society and on some other issues, seeing as he is not just religious, but bigoted it seems to me… This man is not simply praying, he is making out of it what appears like an oppressive ritual, in which all the family is actively participating, each has to kneel, they are supposed to say chapters of the prayer – when one is sick, he or she is expected to say it from the room where they convalesce and when Mark is superficial and thinks of the beer he wants to have in the pub – this will prove to be quite a flaw in his character, at one point, Maggie comes to stay at Great Meadow with her two children and while in London, Mark drinks all the money he earns – and the fervor, the way that the Catholic Faith is affecting Moran and his family looks like close to fanaticism to this reader – granted, Ireland is, or has been very attached to the Catholic faith and the rift in faith has played an important part in the clashes in Northern Ireland, where it is not just loyalists versus the IRA, or republicans, it is also Catholics against protestants… There is a major conflict with the youngest son, Michael, who meets at the age of fifteen with temptation in the form of an older girl, who had just returned for holidays from America, and he travels and has sex with her, until he comes into the crosshairs of his father’s rage and the clash between the two is fierce, physical and results in the abrupt flight from home of the one remaining child…they will eventually make peace and Michael will forget that he thought his parent was about to use his shotgun on him, unlike Luke, who never seems to forget – indeed, he retorts to his brother and sisters that he ‘has very good memory’ – and remains detached from a father that had been abusive and dictatorial, if loved by all children, except the eldest…

  22. 5 out of 5

    Roger Pettit

    Ireland has produced many fine novelists - William Trevor, Brian Moore, Colm Toibin, John Banville, Jennifer Johnston, Maeve Binchy and John Boyne, to name just some. And here is another (hitherto unknown to me) to add to the list: John McGahern. McGahern died in 2006, having produced 6 novels and 4 short story collections. On the evidence of this gem of a book, it is a great shame that he did not write more. Amongst Women is an excellent novel. It is a sort of Tennessee Williams play, transport Ireland has produced many fine novelists - William Trevor, Brian Moore, Colm Toibin, John Banville, Jennifer Johnston, Maeve Binchy and John Boyne, to name just some. And here is another (hitherto unknown to me) to add to the list: John McGahern. McGahern died in 2006, having produced 6 novels and 4 short story collections. On the evidence of this gem of a book, it is a great shame that he did not write more. Amongst Women is an excellent novel. It is a sort of Tennessee Williams play, transported to rural Ireland of the 1950s. It tells the story of Michael Moran, who had fought in the War of Independence and in the Irish Civil War in the 1920s. The story opens with his imminent demise. Then in a series of flashback narratives (without any chapter headings or structure of that sort), the novel tells the story of this controlling, sometimes violent but always family-oriented man and of his relationship with his second wife, Rose, and with his three daughters and two sons. Moran can be both verbally and physically abusive. There is one chilling scene in which his teenage son Michael runs away rather than experience the corporal punishment that his father is about to hand out to him for missing school to spend time with his girlfriend. The story ends with Moran's death. Amongst Women is a quiet, unostentatious novel that addresses a number of important themes. These include: the power struggle between parents and children as the latter grow older and become adults themselves; family loyalties; and the role of women in society generally and, in particular, in the family structure. It is written in beautifully clear prose. The characterisation and sense of time and place are spot on. And it is a story in which the reader cares about all the characters - including the often angry, unpredictable but strangely likeable Moran. This brilliant novel is well worth reading - as, I imagine, on this evidence, is the rest of McGahern's small oeuvre. 10/10.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Pool

    I read this as part of The Mookse and the Gripes visit to the Booker shortlist from 1990. Amongst Women is a carefully drawn study of local community and an insular family (the Morans). There's lots to applaud, and my only reservation is that I don't feel that McGovern brings any deeper or original insight to the realities and dynamics of close knit family life than the great D.H. Lawrence did in many of his classic works some seventy years before. There are some memorable descriptions of Michael M I read this as part of The Mookse and the Gripes visit to the Booker shortlist from 1990. Amongst Women is a carefully drawn study of local community and an insular family (the Morans). There's lots to applaud, and my only reservation is that I don't feel that McGovern brings any deeper or original insight to the realities and dynamics of close knit family life than the great D.H. Lawrence did in many of his classic works some seventy years before. There are some memorable descriptions of Michael Moran , a misanthropist though and through: "Moran was neither rich nor poor, but his hatred of poverty meant that he was never poor but that he and all around him would live as though they were paupers "(10) "his aversion to the past was as strong as ever" (173) There are a number of references to customs and traditions that alternately charm and amaze (this is from a time less than thirty years ago, and I'm conscious that local traditions may well still be honoured today) * selling turf door to door to pay for a trip to the seaside * the wren-boys * recitals of the Rosary, the Decade * covering mirrors, and stopping clocks as a sign of mourning. Irish lore is endlessly fascinating, and its no surprise that so many great writers and poets come from Ireland, and continue to do so. A great read for those looking for a considered appreciation of Ireland and the Irish.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Many significant Irish novels published during the 80s and 90s (I think, in particular, of Colm Toibin's wonderful The Heather Blazing) seem to feature characters and plots that struggle to reconcile the revolutionary ideals of the early twentieth century with the soullessness and disenchantments of some aspects of the new state that finally came into being. McGahern's memorable patriarch and former IRA man, Moran, is emblematic of such characters. Although rarely likable, Moran is nevertheless Many significant Irish novels published during the 80s and 90s (I think, in particular, of Colm Toibin's wonderful The Heather Blazing) seem to feature characters and plots that struggle to reconcile the revolutionary ideals of the early twentieth century with the soullessness and disenchantments of some aspects of the new state that finally came into being. McGahern's memorable patriarch and former IRA man, Moran, is emblematic of such characters. Although rarely likable, Moran is nevertheless a complex figure whose domineering nature and nearly abusive parenting (at least on an emotional level) are occasionally leavened by his honest fidelity to the idea of family, his sheepish attempts to retreat from and modestly compensate for his moments of transgression, and his subjection to the broader historical forces that have stunted the second half of his life. It's a short and distilled novel, and McGahern admirably suggests more than he tells with his narrative, leaving levels of mystery behind what seems to be a simple character study. The real heroes here, though, are the women -- Rose, Sheila, Maggie, Mona -- who are buffeted but never bowed by Moran's storms.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    A narratively straightforward story about family and understanding guided by emotion. Boring? I don't think so. What I like about this book is that I'm able to think back to moments within and fail to see any relevancy toward a specific arched plot. It is much like one would look back on their own life and just see events for what they were: experiences that just happened and solidified who you were, are, and will be into the future. The tragedy, if there is one, is that life moves on and the si A narratively straightforward story about family and understanding guided by emotion. Boring? I don't think so. What I like about this book is that I'm able to think back to moments within and fail to see any relevancy toward a specific arched plot. It is much like one would look back on their own life and just see events for what they were: experiences that just happened and solidified who you were, are, and will be into the future. The tragedy, if there is one, is that life moves on and the simple, flawed, normal things we hold dear, often times without knowing it, eventually fade away in their own ways. Not much amazing or intriguing here. But it is that simplicity that I, as a reader, found beauty and compassion in. This was the last book I was supposed to read for a class on British and Irish novels, and I can see why. It has a culminating feeling, one where you're left with not much to talk about other than to say, "Well, this is it." It both sums up things and leaves them open.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    I couldn't give a stuff what the judges said: THIS was the novel that should have won the 1990 Booker. At less than 200 pages its simple-seeming prose and compressed wisdom make it the crowning achievement of McGahern's distinguished career. I divide people into those who have read it and those who should. I couldn't give a stuff what the judges said: THIS was the novel that should have won the 1990 Booker. At less than 200 pages its simple-seeming prose and compressed wisdom make it the crowning achievement of McGahern's distinguished career. I divide people into those who have read it and those who should.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    The claustrophobia and screwed up family dynamics of this are seriously hard to take, but in a good way. Wanted to grab the aforementioned women, shake them hard, and scream RUN AWAY!!!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4: Michael Moran’s life was forever transformed by his days of glory in the War of Independence. Now, a farmer in the Irish countryside, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past. However, as he grows older, his wife and daughters must confront how their own lives have been irrevocably shaped by this complicated and contradictory man. 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of ‘Amongst Wome From BBC Radio 4: Michael Moran’s life was forever transformed by his days of glory in the War of Independence. Now, a farmer in the Irish countryside, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past. However, as he grows older, his wife and daughters must confront how their own lives have been irrevocably shaped by this complicated and contradictory man. 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of ‘Amongst Women’, widely considered to be the author’s masterpiece. This intimate story of a family living on the Irish border, under the thumb of a former soldier turned tyrant in his own home, has never been more relevant. The Author John McGahern was born in Dublin in 1934 and brought up in the West of Ireland. He was a graduate of University College, Dublin. He worked as a Primary School teacher and held various academic posts at universities in Britain, Ireland and America. In the opinion of the Observer, John McGahern was 'Ireland's greatest living novelist'. He was the author of six highly acclaimed novels and four collections of short stories, and was the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including a Society of Authors Travelling Scholarship, the American-Irish Award, the Prix Etrangère Ecureuil and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Produced by Celia de Wolff for BBC Northern Ireland. Writer ….. John McGahern Abridger ..... John McGahern Reader ….. Lloyd Hutchinson Producer ….. Celia de Wolff https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Mills

    Beautifully written book in which a whole generation goes by and almost nothing happens.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    I came to this book from Yiyun Li's amazing memoir, "Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life". She was quite taken with McGahern's prose and reading this for myself, I can certainly see why. This is the story of Michael Moran, a former Republican army partisan long since removed to his outpost at home with his new bride, son, and 3 daughters. To say things Moran is a difficult character is an understatement. He is a bitter, petty, tyrant who rules his house with an iron fist. So m I came to this book from Yiyun Li's amazing memoir, "Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life". She was quite taken with McGahern's prose and reading this for myself, I can certainly see why. This is the story of Michael Moran, a former Republican army partisan long since removed to his outpost at home with his new bride, son, and 3 daughters. To say things Moran is a difficult character is an understatement. He is a bitter, petty, tyrant who rules his house with an iron fist. So much so that his oldest son has long since left home for England. He is a man who outwardly professes to care for his children but cannot allow or give his blessing for them to take a path in life that goes against what he believes to be correct. To watch his children acquiesce tot he wishes of this bitter man is heartbreaking. Furthermore, the feeling of claustrophobia in this family's dynamic is palpable as Moran, and the reader rarely ventures outside this home. There, family is everything and even the largest transgression can be forgiven so long as the family unit is preserved. We see this particularly in a scene where a harvest of wheat must be cultivates before the rains set in. When this is completed, Moran comments that it couldn't have been done alone but as a unit, nothing is impossible. This is a theme we see time and again. Daughters and sons leave, marry, have children, and often suffer terrible psychological and physical abuse at his hands, yet they always come back. Why? McGahern seems to imply that the idea of family identity is so strong that regardless of the psychic or physical pain, nothing can surpass the pain of not being connected to the family as a unit. We see this in a scene where Moran is driving a tractor when a pheasant, unseen by him, is trapped under the blades and it's legs and wings shorn off. It's perhaps symbolic of Moran's children who could (and have) fly away and yet never quite get far enough to avoid having their own metaphorical wings severed. It's an incredibly evocative scene in a novel that is awash in them. This is my first McGahern novel but if the others are anywhere near as powerful as this one, it won't be my last.

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