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John McGahern and the Art of Memory

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Dermot McCarthy

In 2005, when John McGahern published his Memoir, he revealed for the first time in explicit detail the specific nature of the autobiographical dimension of his fiction, a dimension he had hitherto either denied or mystified. Taking Memoir as a paradigmatic work of memory, confession, and imaginative recovery, this book is a close reading of McGahern’s novels that discovers his narrative poiēsis in both the fiction and the memoir to be a single, continuous, and coherent mythopoeic project concealed within the career of a novelist writing ostensibly in the realist tradition of modern Irish fiction. McGahern’s total body of work centres around the experiences of loss, memory, and imaginative recovery. To read his fiction as an art of memory is to recognize how he used story-telling to confront the extended grief and anger that blighted his early life and that shaped his sense of self and world. It is also to understand how he gradually, painfully and honestly wrote his way out of the darkness and despair of the early work into the luminous celebration of life and the world in his great last novel That They May Face the Rising Sun.

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Contents

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Acknowledgements ix Abbreviations xi Chapter One John McGahern and the Art of Memory 1 Chapter Two Orpheus Triumphant – Recovering the Lost Beloved: Memoir (2005) 25 Chapter Three Ref lections of the One Thing: The Barracks (1963) 51 Chapter Four In the Name of the Father: The Dark (1965) 81 Chapter Five Breaking the Moulds – Part I: The Leavetaking (1974; rev. 1984) 119 Chapter Six Breaking the Moulds – Part II: The Pornographer (1979) 175 Chapter Seven The End of Father History: Amongst Women (1990) 223 viii Chapter Eight The Completed Circle: That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) 279 Conclusion: Violence, Dislocation, Truth and Vision 315 Bibliography 321 Index 329

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