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John McGahern

Critical Essays

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Edited By 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provide provocative readings of his major works and also examine some of his lesser-known short stories, essays and unpublished archival materials which have not yet received due critical attention.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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NIAMH CAMPBELL – This is Mine: Phatic Communion and Textual Space in That They May Face the Rising Sun and Memoir

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NIAMH CAMPBELL

This is Mine: Phatic Communion and Textual Space in That They May Face the Rising Sun and Memoir

The poet works with mental ears.1

Dennis Sampson has described McGahern’s Memoir (2005) as ‘the work of a poet in prose’2. We might also imagine the opening lines of the writer’s final novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002), as decanted into verse: ‘The morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire world to themselves’.3 This style of presentation, a ‘condition of simple witness’ founded on measured and comprehensible sentences, characterizes the language of Rising Sun, but this does not prevent the work from taking on poetic qualities; which is to say from the generation of effects that are more pronounced than any narrative propulsion.4 Chief among these is the creation of a textual milieu, a knowable world of refrains foregrounding circularity, and establishing a sense of place that is both topographically and linguistically enclosed. In the course of this opening passage, plangent points of information (‘The morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake’) anticipate a pole of conclusion, culminating in textual rest (‘they had the entire world to themselves’): ← 187 | 188 → between these two, an instant of vaguely assonant immanence is suspended, the strokes that ‘tremble’ on water doubling the...

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