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John McGahern, Amongst Women

In his novel Amongst Women, the Irish writer John McGahern answers the question of what, exactly, revolutionists do after the revolution is over. His protagonist, the former Irish Republican warrior Michael Moran, first hints at the answer early in the narrative:
"For people like McQuaid and myself the war was the best part of our lives. Things were never so simple and clear again. I think we never rightly got the hang of it afterwards."

Moran's character is marvelously drawn. He's bitter, angry and disillusioned over what the country he fought has become, as it forsakes its patriots in favor of the "small-minded gangsters" whom Moran sees as having taken over, putting their own selfish interests first at the expense of the country at large. He's further disillusioned by the status of his old friend McQuaid, who has become a rich cattleman despite being of lower rank during the days of freedom-fighting, while Moran the former commander sees himself as more of a small farmer. Despite his considerable wealth he is very frugal to the point of being cheap - not because he is greedy, but because he sees money as his last source of power in society, the nest egg that keeps him from the shame of the poor-farm.

Moran feels set apart from society, and since he can't exert power there he focuses his energy on controlling his five children: Luke, the oldest, who flees the family home for a new life in London; three daughters - Maggie, Sheila and Mona - who worship their father despite his often cruel treatment of them; and Michael, the youngest, a carefree spirit who ultimately bears the brunt of Moran's frustration and wrath after the sisters have left to start their own lives. As the years go on he steadily withdraws from society and deeper into his household, making life more difficult for everyone involved, especially Rose, his saint of a wife who serves as a buffer between Moran's frequent fury and the children.

The daughters' esteem for Moran is somewhat troubling, for even as they develop lives of their own elsewhere, they run back to him at a moment's notice despite his cruelty. While he can be charming when the mood strikes him, his dark side is so dark that it negates most if not all of his better qualities. Still, Moran is a fascinating if often repellent character, a compelling protagonist that this involving book revolves around and makes for a very rewarding read.

March 20, 2010 in Books | Permalink

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