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General literature studies

Publication Details

Published in Spirituality, vol. 25 September-October 2019, no. 146


John McGahern has been referred to variously as the chronicler of a disappearing traditional rural Ireland, as a critic of narrow, repressive thinking, particularly in the religious and social spheres, as a writer with a keen appreciation of the landscape, customs and practices of his native Leitrim/Roscommon. Undoubtedly, he was all these things, but he was above all else an artist who saw his role as simply to 'get his words right.' In an interview I conducted with rhe author in 2000, he made the following observation: 'I think that ifyou actually set out to give a picture of Ireland that it would be unlikely to be interesting, that it would be closer to propaganda or journalism.' What he is emphasising here is that a writer should not set out deliberately to paint a particular image of a society or culture, that such a role applies more to journalists and sociologists than to creative writers. Had he adopted such an approach, McGahern's work would have justifiably been criticised for being moralistic, or motivated by a desire merely to give vent to personal opinions rather than to create art. I think it is fair to say that McGahern is one ofthe least didactic writers you will find, which does not mean, however, that his work is devoid ofcriticism ofa number ofthe unsavoury aspects of the hidden Ireland that are memorably captured in both his fiction and prose writing.