This is the first full length biography of one of Ireland’s most loved writers. A man who was able to go from a plain to a heightened prose style with deceptive ease, John McGahern was as scrupulous as he was pure in the manner in which he crafted his books.
Beginning on a high with The Barracks in 1963, two years later he created a furore with The Dark, losing his Primary teaching job in Dublin after it was banned. He left Ireland afterwards to eke out a living doing support teaching in the schools of East London in between piecemeal writing commissions. The failure of his marriage to the Finnish theatre director Anniki Laaksi soon followed.
The two events might have crippled lesser men but, as was the case when he lost his beloved mother to cancer as a ten-year-old boy, somehow he found the way to mint art from his pain. After returning to Ireland in the early seventies he went on to produce a rich stream of fiction, combining the life of a Leitrim farmer with a starkly contrasting series of prestigious lectureships in foreign universities.
Aubrey Malone knew him. As a fellow Connacht man who also left a teaching job to become a writer, he found he had much in common with the Roscommon wordsmith after interviewing him for his Booker Prize-nominated novel Amongst Women in 1990. He became as interested in his life as his books afterwards and wrote about him frequently in subsequent years as well as keeping in touch with him by letter and over the phone.
In the present book he tells the story of ‘Ireland’s Chekhov’ from his strife-torn youth under a cruel father through a controversial career that saw him produce a steady stream of classic novels and short stories and novels, right up to his elegiac swansong, That They May Face the Rising Sun.
The book also explores some lesser-known aspects of his life: his problems in teaching on both sides of the Irish Sea, his failed romances – one of which produced a love child – and the brave manner in which he negotiated the cancer that caused his death at the age of 71 in 2006.
Through all of this he was buffeted by the love of his second wife Madeline, an American photographer who provided sterling support to him from a discreet distance as he went from enfant terrible to national treasure.
McGahern changed the way we thought about life as much as literature. His books will live as long as people love language. In these pages we come to grips with someone who became famous the world over for ‘getting the words right’ but who never left the lanes of Leitrim in his heart.