I came to John McGahern far too late in the game. He first hit my radar via a TLS year-end round up that mentioned his last novel That They May Face The Rising Sun. I ordered a long distance copy from the UK, and bought the paperback when it was issued in the United States under the banal title By The Lake. The book sent me off in search of his other writing and by the end he became part of a trio of my favorite contemporary Irish novelists, bookended by William Trevor and another author I mention here from time to time.
Like many McGahern fans, I was very excited at the news of the release of his memoir All Will Be Well. (You can read an excerpt here.) I recently received a copy from the fine people at Knopf and had set it aside - it was to be my post LBC-reading treat. (I was planning to start it this weekend.) There had been talk with the publicity people at Knopf of an interview here. But when he cancelled his recent US appearances I was concerned, fearing an announcement like this might follow.
As Ian McEwan recently said of Saul Bellow, the death of a beloved author naturally sends you back to the bookshelves. I'll be thumbing through some fine novels this weekend but I'll also take up his memoir and begin reading it - slowly, savoring what I know will be the last new words from John McGahern.
He's woefully unappreciated in this country, so perhaps you'll take a moment to visit some of these links below and take his measure. And if you like some of what you see, try one of his books. Perhaps you'll be fortunate enough to begin your own love affair with this quietly powerful writer. The joy of discovery awaits you. I'm terribly sad to see him go.
McGahern's Irish Writers Page
A transcript of a 2004 Lannan Foundation Interview
McGahern's Granta Page
McGahern's Random House Page
A 2002 Guardian interview
More recently, also in the Guardian, McGahern discusses his memoir
An essay on the motifs of leavetaking and homecoming found in McGahern's fiction
The reading guide to Amongst Women, one of his best known works.
An excerpt from By The Lake
Belinda McKeon remembers McGahern and reprints her 2004 Irish Times interview with him
In his final Guardian interview, he said something that I think sums him up quite well. I'll leave you with these words to consider, and if they resonate at all then I suspect you'll embrace his books:
I think that it is by focusing on the local that you can best capture that change. If you were to focus on the universal, you'd end up with vagueness. John Donne said, "Let us make one little room, and everywhere." That's what I believe, really, that everything interesting begins with one person and one place.
Have a good weekend, all. We'll be staying out of the rain with our copy of All Will Be Well, saying goodbyes to John McGahern.