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Amongst Women (1990)

by John McGahern

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8562518,676 (3.86)94
Moran is an old Republican whose life is transformed forever by his days of glory as a guerrilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - in a struggle to come to terms with the past.
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    hdght: This is originally a Irish children's story, but it has many important Irish themes such as famine, family, cultural struggle, and mythology.

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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
It's hard to rate this book on the writing versus the content. It all made me deeply uncomfortable, which I think may have been the point. ( )
  Raiona | Jan 28, 2021 |
Lyrically written as so many Irish novels are, this centres around the inscrutable patriarch of a rural family. Moran rules his family with an iron fist. He’s an old freedom fighter from the days of revolution against British rule and, if we’re being sympathetic to him, he suffers from PTSD.

It’s very hard to be sympathetic to him, though as his constant belligerance keeps his family on edge. He’s already alienated one son as the book gets underway and goes on to alienate another. His daughters tiptoe around him like he’s primed semtex.

In the midst of this storm comes Rose, a local woman who, somehow, manages to marry the man and bring some fur to line the flint. Despite her saintly forebearance, he still manages to push everyone to the limit.

The story is well told although none of the characters except Moran are really crafted well enough for you to get to know them too well. And it’s Moran you really want a break from most of the time.

Quite why McGahern titled it Amongst Women eluded me. There’s at least one son at home for most of the novel so it isn’t that Moran has to endure entirely female company. The very useful Wikipedia entry was helpful here, and if I’d had more of a Catholic bent, I’d have picked up the reference; ‘blessed art thou amongst women‘ is a line from the Rosary which Moran faithfully leads his family to pray on many occasions in the book.

The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and lost out to Possession by Byatt, a novel that was written by an author seemingly far more concerned to impress literary judges. McGahern’s storytelling is subtle and measured and, if you let it get to you, moving. Unlike Byatt, he’s well worth reading. ( )
  arukiyomi | Dec 27, 2020 |
In Amongst Women, Irish novelist John McGahern takes us back to the 1950s and inside the home of the Moran family in rural County Sligo. The five children are in their teens as we start, except for Luke, who is already out of the house, living in London, and refusing to communicate with his father or return home for any reason. The mother is evidently dead (she is barely mentioned). The father, Michael (known throughout the narrative almost exclusively as "Moran"), is identified early on as a veteran of the IRA flying columns during the uprising against British rule several decades earlier. He is also identified as a man of smoldering anger whom his children, and soon his second wife, often have to tiptoe around so as not to ignite that fury. In the meantime, life is changing in rural Ireland in ways that Moran is not particularly comfortable with.

This book is considered to be McGahern's masterpiece. It is tersely written, with a particularly effective portrayal of the claustrophobia of rural family life. As such, it's not always comfortable to read, as the tension in the household transmits frequently to the reader. The dynamics of family are also well drawn, as the four children and Rose, the new wife, make excuses for Moran's unpleasantness and revel in the times he flashes humor and warmth instead.

The problem for me is that the daughters seemed barely distinguishable as characters. Only the youngest sibling, brother Michael, and Rose get anywhere near a full fleshing out as individuals. Also, the theme of the household with the angry, abusive (in this case chiefly psychologically) father runs through so many Irish novels that, realistic as it may be, I feel by now that I'd occasionally like a break. The family as a unit is the real character, here, and the strength of that unit is shown as unshakeable. The book is engrossing, but perhaps from my California remove I missed some of its resonance. ( )
  rocketjk | May 21, 2019 |
This is a short, austere and powerful story of a family dominated by a proud and petty tyrant. I remember seeing some of a bleak TV adaptation many years ago, which left me doubting whether I would enjoy the book, which I read as part of Goodreads' The Mookse and the Gripes group's latest project to discuss a historic Booker shortlist, this time 1990, which was the year when Possession won the prize.

Moran is a widowed veteran of the Irish wars of independence who runs a small farm with his five children. The opening part of the book introduces the family as they get together in his old age to try and revive his failing spirit. It is already clear in this section that he is a proud and difficult man to live with. The rest of the book is chronological, starting when his three daughters and youngest son are teenagers but the eldest son Luke has already left for London. He marries the self-effacing and saintly Rose, who has to do all of the running to get them together but soon forms a powerful bond with the three daughters. Moran's violent temper and unpredictable mood swings are oppressive even to the reader. The story follows Moran as his remaining children move away, with all but the estranged and unforgiving Luke returning to the farm frequently.

McGahern eventually succeeds in making you understand why the family tolerate and even love this monster, and by the end of the book one almost feels sorry for him. This is an eloquent and ultimately rather beautiful book. ( )
  bodachliath | Apr 3, 2019 |
Michael Moran is a former IRA soldier, now approaching the end of his life. The story tells of his life as a single parent, raising two boys and three girls. The oldest son is estranged from the family by the time Moran meets and marries Rose. This is a family saga as we watch the children grow up and move on to their own lives. We also see how Moran has acted as the patriarch of this family, with behaviour that is both emotionally and, at times, physically abusive. But, as with most families, the children have different perceptions of and reactions to their father's ways. An interesting examination of family life, very real in its portrayals. ( )
  LynnB | Nov 29, 2018 |
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As he weakened, Moran became afraid of his daughters.
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Moran is an old Republican whose life is transformed forever by his days of glory as a guerrilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - in a struggle to come to terms with the past.

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Moran is an old Republican whose life was transformed for ever by his days of glory as a guerilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past.
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