March 31, 2006


Kenelm M Averill

McGahern was an unshowy writer with the quiet ring of truth and subtle power. I think he has been less appreciated than other writers who are far, far inferior. Banville said in an interview about this yesterday, the literary world trades in glitter, so that real writing finds it hard to get noticed. On the other hand, the Irish themselves still - for how long is a moot point - have a literate culture: their Prime Minister and President have both offered tributes to the great man. Like you said, the best tribute is to go off and read McGahern's books now.

Molly Power

I was just finishing By the Lake and had bored my husband with a long discussion of how much I loved John McGahern and why...Amonst Women is really one of my few favorite novels...kept on the "special shelf"
where I could pick it up any time and take a little look. I was so shocked, then, to hear of his death. I felt as though I was having a lovely ongoing conversation with him through By the Lake ( we were also beginning with our new born lambs), and now he's gone. I am sad and need to adjust my "relationship" with him now that he's gone. Darn!

Jonathan Paul Michiels

It is never too late to discover an author like John McGahern.

Kate Stuart

I've just discovered him in his 2002 introduction to John Williams's "Augustus." It was so absorbing and well written that I went searching for more about him - and found this blog. (John Williams's fiction is extraordinary; I sense McGahern shared some of Williams's world view.)

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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