Bookshelf: Amongst Women - John McGAHERN


Title: Amongst Women

Author: John McGahern

Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-571-22564-4

Paperback. Pre-owned

My rating: 4*

The back flap sets the scene: "Moran is an old republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerrilla fighter in the War of Independence. Now, in his 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."

This is a relatively short book at less than 200 pages and it soon becomes clear that the title Amongst Women not only refers to the farmhouse home at Great Meadow in which the action largely takes place but also to the phrase in the Hail Mary prayer recited in the family Rosary that recurs often in the story.

The writing is lovely and captures the mood as the story goes through various and sometimes repetitive phases. This seems to me intentional. There are no chapters but the text is broken into distinct phases - 10 of them - perhaps reflecting the repeating structure of the Rosary with its decades recounting scenes of various mysteries - joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous. I may be stretching a point but it's a thought.

Some of the situations and social conventions were familiar to me - redolent of growing up in the 50s. At times I felt these were uncomfortably familiar - the scenes in which Moran's new wife, Rose, stretches to keep the domestic peace would I think be recognised by many readers.  The patriarchal, old guard, regime has had its day, but its impulses live on. Right from the opening sentence we are set up for tension: "As he weakened, Moran became afraid of his daughters" but "this once powerful man was so implanted in their lives that they had never really left Great Meadow..."

I thought a wedding scene at the marriage of Moran's daughter, Sheila and her husband Sean was poignantly drawn.  Growing up, Sean's mother had saved him from the tough life of the farm; she had doted on him and he was the "special one" whom she had imagined becoming a priest who in time would say mass for her soul.  Sean had not followed the plan and here he was getting married.  That religious connection again - that Wedding at Cana decade?


I would suggest this book to anyone interested in the social milieu of 1950s Irish society - things have come a long way but the author pulls at the roots.  It would also appeal to those interested in literature with a sense of place and people in that place; those who, like me, are fascinated by family and social interactions and dysfunction will find plenty to absorb them.

I liked this book a lot. It certainly made me reflect.


Check out information suppled by the publisher at this link.