1st Edition

John McGahern Ways of Looking

By John Singleton Copyright 2024

    John McGahern (1934–2006) believed that fiction could act as a window on the world. Such windows, however, frame our fields of vision, alter and shape our perspectives. Far from being static, the artist’s perspective must continually evolve. This book provides a literary analysis of John McGahern’s artistic and poetic vision – his ‘ways of looking’, examining the shifting focus of this vision: how and why it develops, what effects such developments have on the work’s forms and how these forms evolve, at what times and in response to what stimuli. This volume demonstrates that such developments mirror an analogous social expansion during the latter half of the twentieth century and argues that McGahern’s literary spaces relate to his efforts to realise a more accommodating form to envelop the structureless society. While the number of critical studies on McGahern has increased markedly in recent years, research still tends to fall into the well-established camps of social realism or literary aestheticism. This text aims to explore the common ground between the material context and social worlds of each work and the hermeneutics of a ‘traditional’ literary investigation. It traverses such divides through close readings of McGahern’s work, with attention to the topopoetical production of images of the house, the home and the family unit. The book ultimately shows how attention to McGahern’s literary spaces provides a greater understanding of the aesthetic, vision and form of each novel and allows us to understand those aspects relative to the social, cultural and political undercurrents of the works individually and collectively.

    Introduction: The House of Vision: From Darkness to the Rising Sun

    Part I: Plato’s Cave: Jumping at Shadows in the Family Home

    Chapter 1 – The Medusa’s Mirror, Motherhood and a Woman’s Place in The Barracks

    Chapter 2 – Rejecting Convention and ‘The Ireland that we Dreamed of’ in The Dark

    Chapter 3 – Rising from the Cave in Nightlines

    Part II: The Heterotopia: New and Uncertain Beginnings

    Chapter 4 – The Road Away Becomes the Road Back: Brutal Experiments in The Leavetaking and The Pornographer

    Chapter 5 – Standing Outside Life: Emergence and Transformation in Getting Through and High Ground

    Part III: The Halfway House: Emergent Forms of Home

    Chapter 6 – In the Halfway House: Custom, Ritual and the Social World of Manners in Amongst Women

    Chapter 7 – A Life of One’s Own: Displacement and Transgression in the Late Stories

    Part IV: The Fifth Province: Responsibilities in the Deep Hearth’s Core

    Chapter 8 – Responsibilities in the Hearth of the House of Light: That They May Face the Rising Sun

    Chapter 9 – Reimagining Darkness: Continuity and Contrast in The Rockingham Shoot and Other Dramatic Works

    Conclusion: The Poetics of Dreaming and Time Regained in Memoir


    John Singleton was awarded his PhD in English from the National University of Ireland, Galway, in 2020. He has taught across various disciplines in the School of English and Creative Arts and the Centre for Irish Studies at NUI, Galway, since 2016. His main research interests are Modern Literature and Drama in English, Creative Writing, Irish Studies and Spatiality. His research has been published in the Review of Irish Studies in Europe, NPPSH Reflections and The Graveyard in Literature: Liminality and Social Critique.