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John McGahern -That They May Faces the Rising Sun-

Juli 30, 2010

Social live in rural Ireland is different than in other societies. That is not only well known but also a fact for several centuries. Especially Irish novelist John McGahern is indisputably good in describing all shades of Irish people and their live.

In his novel  „That They May Faces the Rising Sun“ he deals for another time with a group of different people living together in a village-like situation. The story features all kinds of people living around a lake at the border from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. I would say that the core of the whole story seems to be the deep difference of all people’s characters.
There is one the one hand side, as I would describe it the modern section with Joe and Kate Ruttledge who worked for a few years in London before they returned to Ireland and their uncle called „the Sha“. All of them have quite a modern sense of living, working and acting in the community. On the other side there is the „classical“ village community with their fears and prejustice like the couple Jamesie and Mary, who never left this area as well as Jimmy Joe McKiernan, who is the local IRA head.

So they all live together as a community but in reality nobody knows anything from each other except for what is obvious. Nobody really feels free to show emotions, fears or thoughts to their neighbours, friends or family. Most of the time conversations tend to rotate around rumours and the usual gossip. In this context it is not surprising, that they are literally not able to react in uncomm0n situations, like deaths, changes in business or the relations with England in what way ever.

From my point of view they all form a community which is focused to „play their roles“ without risking to extend their horizons in the one or the other way. That makes them live in a passive and static way unable to develop the community in its thinking and acting principles. Even the modernish group around the Ruttledges falls back in a passive situation, even though they would be able to change things. But I feel that they get committed in this community acting by the time and don’t see a chance for them self to get accepted as a part of the village by trying to influence the behaviour of its inhabitants. They are more or less observers.

As I see it, McGahern found an interest in the rural milieu and the search for reason why they are acting in a certain manner. In his style he is more observing than judgemental but for me as a reader its not unusual to see it as a critique to a passive an non-part-taking live which can damage societies and force conflicts. Its the dangerous and a bit egotistic „if we don’t do anything we can’t do anything wrong“ mentality which serves all this.

For closing on this I would say McGaherns novel is not story of great action or emotions, but rather a study on a certain type of community. As a reader you can make your own assumptions on what is right or wrong because of the neutral, observant writing style. In comparison to McGahern other novels it is not as interesting and dramatic, but anyway worth reading.

John McGahern
„That They May Faces the Rising Sun“
297 pages
Irish Idependent „Great Irish Writers“ Series #1, 2005
ISBN: 2-874-27180-2

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