McGahern, John 1934-
Irish short story writer, novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter.
A controversial and provocative Irish literary figure, McGahern writes traditionally structured fiction in which he challenges many of his homeland's conventional social, sexual, and religious values. Focusing on protagonists for whom li in modern Ireland has become restrictive and repressive, he examines such themes as the failure of love, the erosion of marital compatibility, the difficulty of maintaining hope, and the burden of Irish parochialism and religious conservatism. Often employing religious diction, imagery, and motifs, McGahern presents a vision of contemporary Ireland characterized by symbols of death, darkness, infertility, and impotency.
McGahern was born in Dublin and raised in County Ros-common in the west of Ireland. After completing his studies at University College in Dublin, he taught for seven years at a National Boys School in Clontarf. In 1963 McGahern published his novel The Barracks to critical acclaim. His next novel, The Dark, was banned by the Irish Censorship Board in 1965, and when all legal action appealing the ban of the novel failed, McGahern left Ireland temporarily, visiting various cities and universities in continental Europe, England, and the United States. He currently lives on a farm in Leister, Ireland.
Major Works of Short Fiction
McGahern has published four volumes of short fiction. His stories are often populated with characters unable to find respite from the unrelenting demands of everyday life. In his first collection, Nightlines, the recurring cycle of birth, love, and death is portrayed as a disappointing pattern. The stories in Getting Through display guarded optimism in the human spirit, although the dominant mood remains bleak. High Ground denotes McGahern's concern with father and son relationships, the banality of conformity and compromise, and sexual and religious conflicts. McGahern's thematic and stylistic development as a short fiction writer is evident in Collected Stories, which was published in 1993.
Critical ReceptionAlthough McGahern has been faulted by those who consider his portrayal of characters dominated by rural values a misrepresentation of contemporary Ireland's more cosmopolitan identity, critics generally commend his incisive delineation of Irish parochialism and his commentary on the vacuousness of much of modern life. McGahern is often compared with a broad range of other writers, especially James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Anton Chekhov; yet, he is consistently praised by commentators for the singularity of his narrative voice and vision. As Patricia Boyle Haberstroh maintains: "McGahern's position as not only one of Ireland's most important novelists but also as one of the best contemporary writers of English prose derives ultimately from the originality and uniqueness of his fiction."