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By the Lake by John McGahern
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By the Lake (original 2002; edition 2003)

by John McGahern

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6821814,002 (3.88)25
Member:LukeS
Title:By the Lake
Authors:John McGahern
Info:Vintage (2003), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

Work details

That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern (2002)

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
No. This book did not pass the Nancy Pearl Rule of Fifty - but I am rather old so it didn't involve much reading before I decided that this wasn't sufficiently engaging to keep me going. I was not troubled by a lack of action or slow pace - I love books where nothing much happens. But I do need to find some special insight into people, relationships, behaviour etc. I was finding this story a bit too much of a narrative of people's lives written from the outside perspective. I was wanting more inside information. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible. It's just that when you get to my age you don't have much reading time left and you can't waste it on something which is only just: "meh". I might come back to it if I'm still alive in ten years time and I've run out of better books. No, I take that back. Good new books are being written at a faster pace than I can read them so there will always be something more attractive on my TBR pile. ( )
  oldblack | Jun 3, 2014 |
I have to admit that I am having great difficulty with this book. It's not that is is poorly written, because the language is eloquent. It's not the pace (which is extremely gentle) bothers me either, because I love how "slow" novels enfold the reader and carry them into the world depicted. The cast of characters are indeed, characters. Some of the language throws me, as Irish English differs in many ways from American English. (Just check out all the memes on the internet that explore language and you'll see what I mean.)

I think the problem I'm having is a personal one: there is something in this book that is reminding me of a situation that clearly was unhealthy for me, and I disassociated myself from it. To be re-immersed, even in the pages of a novel, to something that was toxic in my life is not wise, so I am putting the book down, unfinished, until I have safely overcome injury. It may be that when the discussion for Stanford Book Salon starts up in a short bit, I'll be able to approach it more clinically and start reading again. Time, which heals all wounds, will tell.
  bookczuk | Jan 4, 2014 |
Now I know what many are going to say on finishing this: ‘what the heck was that about? Where was the story? What was the point?’ And I have to say that had the 1001 books list not pushed me deeper into fiction than I’ve been comfortable going, I would have said the same thing earlier in my reading career.

Now, however, I can appreciate literature that doesn’t need a point, a plot or a polished ending. I can just appreciate it for what it is – literature pure and simple; writing for the joy of being written.

McGahern is Irish and writes about a couple returning from London to a rural community in their native Ireland. That there is no point and no plot is the point and plot. This is Ireland, people. Life is life, and that is what the writing consists of. Beautiful, lyrical, this is an ethnography of a vanishing world.

So, as I started out, I did find it a challenge keeping track of who the characters were. But when I finally twigged that I wasn’t supposed to try, I could just lie back and let McGahern’s prose take me along in its current. Reading the book before going to sleep each night was a perfect way to relax. The slow pace was accentuated by beautiful moments of poignant prose as small details of life and nature are described in delightful detail, such as

"The sun was now high above the lake. There wasn’t a wisp of cloud. Everywhere the water sparkled. A child could easily believe that the whole of heaven were dancing."

Gorgeous.

As the couple get to know the inhabitants of their rural location, characters are fleshed out and there are moving moments as their fortunes ebb and flow with the community.

I greatly enjoyed the calm wash of the writing. It was quite soothing.

Those into Dan Brown’s formulas, contrived plot twists and mandatory cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter, stay away from this book of real writing. You don’t know how to read yet and will be confused. This is one for those of you who know what words are really for. ( )
  arukiyomi | Nov 26, 2013 |
Well, it took a while to get into this book. Like, half the book to get into it. Overuse of pronouns and the lack of a clear central plot made it difficult to figure out who was who and what I should be focusing on. But once I got comfortable with the characters and setting, it was easier to feel immersed in their daily lives and just enjoy the ride. Not a thrill ride, of course, but a slow, meandering Sunday drive through the Irish countryside, which was good enough for me. ( )
  CluckingBell | Apr 7, 2013 |
Now I want to move to Ireland. After listening to the lilting, fluid conversational rhythms in John McGahern’s By the Lake, I can’t wait to pull up stakes and move to the Sacred Sod. It doesn’t hurt that the late Mr. McGahern set all these charming spoken words in the mortar of his own graceful narrative. The whole is more than agreeable, it’s enchanting. I’m sorry I finished, and that doesn’t happen for me that often.

And I do admire By the Lake, make no mistake. We witness the cycle of the agricultural year in a vaguely-identified region of the Republic of Ireland. It might be County Donegal, but it doesn’t matter. Joe Ruttledge and his wife Kate live next to a lake, raise sheep along with a few cattle, and are much admired and loved in the community, particularly by their lakeside neighbors, Jamesie and Mary Murphy. This is a quiet community, encompassing a small market town, and Jamesie is well known for his nosy nature and his innocent, innocuous ways. Other characters aren’t quite so sympathetic, but their discourse and their manners always adhere to a carefully respectful, even sunny, code. Events flow like a stream that never overruns its banks. An egotist remarries later in life, only to find a bride – and her entire family – reject him. Crops are brought in with neighbors’ help, livestock taken to market, construction projects proceed, folks pass away, and atheists and priests are on friendly terms. The conflicts all play out in confidential conversations, it seems. No one does anything rude or aggressive in By the Lake, but the strife of conflicting interests unwinds its tense energy below the surface nonetheless.

So what commends this book to our attention? Here’s what: the unceasing and beautiful description of nature in rural Ireland, and how it dictates these farmers’ agendas; the awe-inspiring and delightful diction of Irish conversation, here faithfully tendered; the glowing significance inhering to everyday objects and statements, given them by this lovely soup of emotion and honor. There is a lot of folk wisdom contained herein, and we can all take a lesson – or any number of lessons – from this novel’s poetically-spoken characters.

I recommend this joy of a novel to anyone interested in an ennobling narrative, set in the hearts and minds of some earthy – not simple – Irish country folk. Take and enjoy!

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2012/12/by-lake-by-john-mcgahern.html ( )
  LukeS | Dec 31, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571212212, Paperback)

Joe and Kate Ruttledge, have come to rural Ireland from London in search of a different life. In passages of beauty and truth, the drama of a year in their lives and those of the memorable characters that move about them unfolds through action, the rituals of work, religious observances and play. By the novel's close we feel that we have been introduced, with deceptive simplicity, to a complete representation of existence - an enclosed world has been transformed into an Everywhere.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:42 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"It is a village flirting with the more sophisticated trappings of modernity but steeped in the traditions of its unforgettable inhabitants and their lives. There are the Ruttledges, who came from London in search of a different life on the edge of the village lake; John Quinn, who will stop at nothing to ensure a flow of women through his life; Jimmy Joe McKiernan, head of the local IRA as well as town auctioneer and undertaker; the gentle Jamesie and his wife, Mary, who have never left the lake and who know about everything that ever stirred or moved there; Patrick Ryan, the builder who never quite finishes what he starts; Bill Evans, the farmhand whose orphaned childhood was marked with state-sanctioned cruelties and whose adulthood is marked by the scars; and the wealthiest man in town, known as the Shah." "A year in the lives of these and other characters unfolds through the observed rituals of work and play, of religious observance and annual festivals, and the details of the changing seasons, of the cycles of birth and death. With deceptive simplicity and eloquence, the author reveals the fundamental workings of human nature as it encounters the extraordinary trials and pleasures, terrors and beauty, of ordinary life."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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