I had to look for a long time for a copy of this novel when I wanted to read it last year; it's fantastic that it's been brought back into print in the US and abroad. The success of McG's recent novels Amongst Women and By the Lake/That They May Face the Rising Sun casts a soft light upon his earlier fiction from the 1960s, but this novel is no romantic landscape.
In the bogs of west-central Ireland, a policeman cycles about pretending to do his duty while his wife takes care of the children and waits to find out whether she has a terminal disease. Told in a powerful voice largely from within her consciousness, the narrative style shows amazing assurance for a then emerging writer. The last scene from her point-of-view ranks in my estimation with Joyce's closing of "The Dead."
I heard McG introduced at a reading as the greatest Irish author from the second half of the 20th (and 21st?) century. This is no hyperbole. While his reticence means he is not the showman that Seamus Heaney is, and while his oblique commentary acknowledges the trauma of the past Irish century rather than exploiting it like many of his lesser contemporaries, McG's dignity in the face of 1960s censorship (for subsequent work) commands respect and a renewal of interest in his entire body of work. Read this story and you'll find the ebb of rural Ireland charted precisely.
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About the reviewer
John L. Murphy (Fionnchu)
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica. … more
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