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Amongst Women [Paperback]

John McGahern
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 7 1991
Moran is an old Republican, a veteran of the Irish Civil War. His old age, its rhythm and shape, is dominated by his three daughters. It is they who revive the custom of celebrating Monaghan Day and it is through their lives that we discover the story of his life. The author also wrote "The Dark".

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From Publishers Weekly

A lyric lament for Ireland, McGahern's lovingly observed family drama is dominated by an almost pathetic paterfamilias. Gruff, blustering Michael Moran, former guerrilla hero in the Irish War of Independence, is a man "in permanent opposition." Now a farmer, he vents his compulsion to dominate, his cold fury and sense of betrayal on his three teenage daughters. Yearning for approval but fearing his flare-ups, they periodically beat a path back to the farmhouse from London and Dublin, then take flight again, both proud and dependent. Moran's second wife, Rose, much younger than he, displays saintly patience in her attempts to heal this splintering family. Moran also claims a renegade son in London who is "turning himself into a sort of Englishman," and another son driven away by Moran's threats of beatings. McGahern ( The Dark ; The Pornographer ) has crafted a wise and tender novel whose brooding hero seems emblematic of an Ireland that drives away its sons and daughters.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

One joke about the Irish War of independence is that several weeks' negotiations only reached the Middle Ages. McGahern's character Moran is an aging veteran of that war whose brooding on the past obscures his present. The novel is in form and style much like McGahern's first, The Barracks (1963). A male protagonist whose extreme state of mind could be called patrimania abuses the women who sustain him and refuses to acknowledge the obsolescence of his mind, body, and convictions. Such is Moran's obstinacy that he manages to traumatize his family by the mulish application of the "family-that-prays-together-stays-together" theory. McGahern's work vindicates obsession with the past and reexamination of fictional landscape by extracting new power from familiar predicaments. A most satisfying addition to a very distinguished body of work.
- John P. Harrington, Cooper Union, New York
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your ordinary, violent Da. March 18 2001
Set in rural Ireland, this uncompromising family drama revolves around Michael Moran, the father of five. A member of the IRA during the time of The Troubles, years ago, Michael has apparently repressed violent traumas which, we are led to believe, are responsible for his withdrawal from society and his current violence against his family--it is not the result of drink or the frustrations of poverty. Now the father of teenage children, he is disillusioned by what he sees as the fruits of this war, remarking, "Look at the country now. Run by a crowd of small-minded gangsters out for their own good."
Within his own household, Michael upholds all the values he fought for years ago. He's a hard, independent man, beholden to no one, and his word is law. To his family, however, he is often a tyrant--obstinate, cruel, full of hatred, quick to anger, and reluctant to apologize-and his second wife Rose his three daughters, and his two sons are "inordinately grateful for the slightest good will." Outwardly religious, Michael daily recites the Rosary, looking for religious help for his inner turmoil and the complications of his daily life. As he says, "the war was the best part of our lives. Things were never so simple and clear again."
With a main character who is never endearing, McGahern challenges the reader to empathize with Michael and understand why the women in his family remain tied to him emotionally, even after they have successfully escaped his domination and established independent lives away from the farm. Gradually, the reader begins to understand the overpowering need to form connections with the past, even when it is not pleasant--to forgive one's parents for their limitations while remaining strong and faithful to oneself. In clear, straightforward prose of immense power, McGahern piles mundane detail upon detail, creating a sensitive family story of great universality, one which will give the reader much to ponder.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Family Matters in AW Feb. 5 2004
Although Moran keeps high opinion of family he seems to keep distance even from the people he loves. He is almost unable to express love he feels either to his children or to his second wife Rose. There is one of the images of his complete loneliness and of his inability to move out from his shell, which is also partly caused by his superiority: 'Moran ate alone in front of the big sideboard mirror, waited on apprehensively by the girls. After he had eaten, they had their own dinner at the side table.' (p. 35)
Rose accepts the role of mother for Moran' s children winning them over completely. She often stands between Moran and his children and works as a negotiator, alleviates their mutual disputes and discrepancies. We can also see both sides of Moran's personality through her eyes. She observes his peculiar nature and negative influence of his bad mood on his children: 'For her there was always a strange excitement in his presence of something about to happen. Nothing was ever still. She felt inordinately grateful when he behaved normally.' (p. 58) She balances Moran's changeable behaviour with equable and calm nature and keep the family together.
It is important to realize how substantial the sense of togetherness is in the novel. Despite Moran's bitterness and unpredictable reactions he realizes that family is the most important thing in his life. He always highlights the necessity of mutual help under one roof: 'Alone we might be nothing. Together we can do anything.' (p. 84) For Moran and subsequently for the whole family religious rituals represent a very important substance of their cohesiveness. The reader must also notice Moran's painful awareness of Luke's absence and the fragility of the relationship between him and his children. Ironically, Rose, a new member of the family, cements the Morans and becomes an integral part of their family. Moran's children always have the place where they can return to and find someone who loves them.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Some universal truths about families June 17 2000
By A Customer
John McGahern's "Amongst Women" is a novel I readily identify with. The truths it reveals about family ties and the needless pain and suffering they sometimes engender are universal, cutting across all cultures. The story may be set in Ireland and specifically about the Morans, but all through the book, I was keenly aware of some home truths which McGahern deftly delivers and gives the novel its special poignance. Humanity is presented in all its ordinariness and with stark realism. The patriach may seem a tyrant in Great Meadows. The state of his family's emotional wellbeing fluctuates according to his mood swings. His second wife is a saint. She bears with and makes excuses for him. With mutual moral support, his daughters help hold the family together. The boys rebel to different degrees, leading to different outcomes. Is old man Moran to blame ? Yes and no. There are always reasons for everything. It's the way life is. McGahern's novel hints at Irish/English hostilities and we understand that this has played its part in Moran's character development. There are few dramatic highs and lows. Events march to the normal tempo of life. McGahern's prose is plain, straightforward and true. As in real life, the novel is not neatly segmented into chapters. The storytelling is seamless and timeless. The setting is fairly modern but the attitude strangely conservative. Maybe that's intentional. Maybe not. "Amongst Women" isn't going to grab you by the collar but it will grow on you. It's a Booker Prize nominee and a Irish Literary Award winner. A worthy read.
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