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Publisher Description

At first glance, the work of John McGahern (1) looks like a Francis Ponge (2) inventory: 'Wheels', 'The Key', 'My Love, My Umbrella', 'Peaches', 'Gold Watch', 'Parachutes', 'Doorways' are titles of his short stories. Objects also make their presence felt in the novels, whether they be utilitarian (cups, tables and chairs, radio, electric kettle, newspaper, bicycle, tyre, car, telephone, watch, uniform, flag), devotional objects (rosary and holy images), objects which have been turned into fetishes (the schoolmaster's bell in The Leavetaking, the leather belt in The Dark, the father's razor in The Barracks), or plant or animal-linked objects. In each of these cases, they are integrated in daily routines and help to establish the real (through description) and to identify it (through definition) by specifying the nature of the substances in question and their variations in colour and form. This plethora of objects leads one to wonder if their accumulation in McGahern's texts does not place the emphasis more on the 'cracks' in what is deemed to be the concrete (3) and solid world rather than on its 'readability'. It is indeed in this manner that McGahern conceives of literature as having a task of making the world intelligible, and as of the writer as s/he who, through his/her sensibility, gives the world an order: 'Art is an attempt to create a world in which we can live: if not long or forever, still a world of the imagination over which we can reign, and by reign I mean to reflect purely on our situation through this created world of ours ...' ('The Image'). In other words, every representation, in particular that of literature, is the expression of the limits of a subject confronted by a real that necessarily exceeds him. Torn between its need to master the real which surrounds it and the realization that this desire is doomed, the subject confronts the fact that his/her power is illusory and passing: 'We cannot live, we can only reign, and we have no reason or right to reign, nothing more than our instinctive need; so we reign in the illusory permanence of false gods ...' ('The Image').

March 22
Irish University Review

More Books by Irish University Review: a journal of Irish Studies