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John McGahern

Critical Essays


Raymond Mullen, Adam Bargroff and Jennifer Mullen

This volume is a collaborative reassessment of the writing of John McGahern. The contributors provide provocative readings of his major works and also examine some of his lesser-known short stories, essays and unpublished archival materials which have not yet received due critical attention. The book also has a focus on topics and issues in McGahern’s writing that have been overlooked, thus extending the critical discourse on this important Irish author. The contributors to the volume range from emerging voices in Irish literary criticism to established scholars in comparative and postcolonial literature. They share an innovative approach to McGahern’s writings, challenging conventional readings of his fiction.
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MALACHI O’DOHERTY – Gossip and Reality: Wondering Who to Believe in McGahern’s Stories


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Gossip and Reality: Wondering Who to Believe in McGahern’s Stories

In all of his works, McGahern mediates situations and scenes to the reader through the lens of characters that often are not authenticated or validated by the author. Often the stories are about the failure of a character to understand the responses of another, and this is common particularly in accounts of sexual relationships. McGahern conveys information to the reader through unreliable characters, presenting incidents which may or may not be reliably told. These elements of his storytelling technique are evident in The Barracks (1963) and are most fully developed in That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002). Seeing how extravagantly McGahern weaves implausible stories while withholding judgement of them, we should realize that one of his undervalued literary devices is a means of toying with the reader, leaving clues that readers may have misunderstood.

McGahern’s first deployment of characters as undependable narrators is in The Barracks and he similarly exploits characters as deceivers of themselves, of others and of the readers in other novels and short stories. He allows them to tell their stories and to interpret each other without providing authorial guidance to a ‘real world’ or basic underlying truth, reminding us that in real life we work out what is going on by deciding who to believe and who not. An example of this is Reegan’s description of Quirke, the police superintendent. Reegan believes that...

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