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The Leavetaking by John McGahern
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The Leavetaking (original 1974; edition 1991)

by John McGahern

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1202174,627 (3.58)4
Widely considered one of the greatest Irish writers by readers and critics alike, John McGahern has been called ?arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett? ("The Guardian") whose ?spare but luminous prose? ("Chicago Tribune") is frequently compared to that of James Joyce. In "The Leavetaking," McGahern presents a crucial, cathartic day in the life of a young Catholic schoolteacher who, along with his new wife, returns to Ireland after a year's sabbatical in London. Moving from the earliest memories of both characters into the present day, "The Leavetaking" recounts the couple's struggle to overcome the suffocating influence of the church in order to find happiness in a fulfilling adult love.… (more)
Member:x_hoxha
Title:The Leavetaking
Authors:John McGahern
Info:Faber Faber Inc (1991), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 171 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:fiction, novel, Ireland, 20th century, Catholic

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The Leavetaking by John McGahern (1974)

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I recently read an interview in The Irish Times with Donal Ryan, whose books (I've read four) are creating a buzz, and John McGahern was mentioned as a major influence. it piqued my curiosity, and, happily, I discovered I had this book, THE LEAVETAKING (1975), already on my shelf.

It's a deceptively complex little novel about tangled and lasting relationships. The narrator, Patrick, is a teacher in a small Catholic school in rural Ireland, putting in his last day before being sacked, because he has committed the grievous sin of marrying in a civil ceremony, and, even worse, to a divorced American. The story covers just that one day, with multiple flashbacks in which we learn of his close attachment to his mother, who wanted him to be a priest, and died when Patrick was ten - his first wrenching leavetaking. Others are when his first serious love affair ends badly, and he takes a spring-summer leave of absence from teaching, moving to London where he takes a job tending bar and meets Isobel, a spoiled American - divorced and a veteran of multiple affairs and a couple abortions, and still seedily infatuated with her incestuous father - whom he marries and takes back to Ireland. The complex back stories of both Isobel and Patrick are dished out piecemeal throughout the narrative, and we learn of the cruelty of Patrick's policeman father and the lasting sense of loss from his mother's death, as well as the Church's iron grip on much of Irish life.

The leavetakings here are several and intense, even to the final page, where, their plans made to leave Ireland and return to London the next day, Patrick reflects -

"... our very breathing seems an echo of the rise and fall of the sea as we drift off to sleep; and I would pray for the boat of our sleep to reach its morning, and see that morning lengthen to an evening of calm weather that comes through night and sleep again to morning after morning, until we meet the first death."

Yes, there is some very beautiful writing in this book, often laced with an ineffable sadness. I was often reminded of the fiction of William Maxwell. John McGahern died a dozen years or more years ago. I think I may look for his memoir, ALL WILL BE WELL. This one? Very highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER. ( )
  TimBazzett | Aug 20, 2020 |
An Irish teacher spends his last day at school knowing he will be fired at the end of the day due to his marriage outside the church to a divorced American woman, Isobel. The book is divided into two parts. In the first he recalls the loves and losses in his life, beginning with the death of his mother, of cancer, when he was young. The second part tells mostly the story of his meeting Isobel, her own troubles with her family, and their time together leading up to his dismissal.

McGahern writes of love, and loss, at a deep emotional level, recreating his own story of the death of his mother and living with his weak father. The episode of Isobel’s problems with her own fickle and troubled father seems stylistically uncharacteristic of the rest of the book but in the preface to this edition McGahern says that he rewrote the second part, and this difference may be a result. ( )
  Hagelstein | Mar 27, 2016 |
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To Niall Walsh
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I watch a gull's shadow float among feet on the concrete as I walk in a day of my life with a bell, its brass tongue in my hand, and think after all that the first constant was water.
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Widely considered one of the greatest Irish writers by readers and critics alike, John McGahern has been called ?arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett? ("The Guardian") whose ?spare but luminous prose? ("Chicago Tribune") is frequently compared to that of James Joyce. In "The Leavetaking," McGahern presents a crucial, cathartic day in the life of a young Catholic schoolteacher who, along with his new wife, returns to Ireland after a year's sabbatical in London. Moving from the earliest memories of both characters into the present day, "The Leavetaking" recounts the couple's struggle to overcome the suffocating influence of the church in order to find happiness in a fulfilling adult love.

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