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John McGahern and the Art of Memory


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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Abbreviations xi


Abbreviations McGahern’s Works and Editions Cited in the Text AW Amongst Women. London: Faber and Faber, 1990. B The Barracks (1963). London: Faber and Faber, 1983. CE Creatures of the Earth: New and Selected Stories. London: Faber and Faber, 2006. D The Dark (1965). London: Faber and Faber, 2008. L 1974 The Leavetaking. London: Faber and Faber, 1974. L 1984 The Leavetaking. Second edition, revised. London: Faber and Faber, 1984. L Because the texts and pagination of Part I of The Leavetaking are the same in both editions, all page references to Part I will be cited simply as (L). M Memoir. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. P The Pornographer (1979). London: Faber and Faber, 1990. RS That They May Face the Rising Sun. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.

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