Published Jan 2010
This is the story of John McGahern’s childhood; of his mother’s death, his father’s anger and bafflement, and his own discovery of literature.
At the heart of the book is homage by a loving son to a woman who protected him and his sisters from his father’s unpredictable moods. His memories of walks with her in the lanes near their home, of her naming flowers for him and of his joy in her presence, are recovered with great lyrical tact. The account of her courageous endurance of illness – with almost no support from her policeman husband, who was living in his barracks – is unsentimental and unforgettable. The day their mother died, the children were carted off to the barracks, where their father the sergeant ruled over a few guards and a quiet countryside where crime was almost unknown, during the war years when Ireland was cut off from the outside world. McGahern describes an adolescence dancing attendance on a secretive, brutal and mercurial man who had only spasms of affection to give his bereft children.
McGahern’s description of the fields and quiet roads of Co. Leitrim, one of Ireland’s least known counties, catches the subtle beauties of an often poor landscape of hill and bog. This memoir is also a great portrait of Ireland in the 1940s and 50s, a time of frugal comfort but also of low expectation and depression for many people in a country that seemed to have no future. The book includes McGahern’s memories of Dublin in the 1960s, his time a schoolteacher, and his sacking for writing a banned book. It end with his return to Leitrim and the death of his father.
A classic family story, told with exceptional restraint and tenderness, John McGahern’s first work of non-fiction cannot fail to move all those who read it.