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All Will Be Well: A Memoir

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From award-winning author John McGahern, a memoir of his childhood in the Irish countryside and the beginnings of his life as a writer.McGahern describes his early years as one of seven children growing up in rural County Leitrim, a childhood was marked by his father’s violent nature and the early death of his beloved mother. Tracing the memories of home through both peopl From award-winning author John McGahern, a memoir of his childhood in the Irish countryside and the beginnings of his life as a writer.McGahern describes his early years as one of seven children growing up in rural County Leitrim, a childhood was marked by his father’s violent nature and the early death of his beloved mother. Tracing the memories of home through both people and place, McGahern details family life and the beginnings of a writing career that would take him far from home, and then back again. Haunting and illuminating, All Will Be Well is an unforgettable portrait of Ireland and one of its most beloved writers. From the Trade Paperback edition.


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From award-winning author John McGahern, a memoir of his childhood in the Irish countryside and the beginnings of his life as a writer.McGahern describes his early years as one of seven children growing up in rural County Leitrim, a childhood was marked by his father’s violent nature and the early death of his beloved mother. Tracing the memories of home through both peopl From award-winning author John McGahern, a memoir of his childhood in the Irish countryside and the beginnings of his life as a writer.McGahern describes his early years as one of seven children growing up in rural County Leitrim, a childhood was marked by his father’s violent nature and the early death of his beloved mother. Tracing the memories of home through both people and place, McGahern details family life and the beginnings of a writing career that would take him far from home, and then back again. Haunting and illuminating, All Will Be Well is an unforgettable portrait of Ireland and one of its most beloved writers. From the Trade Paperback edition.

30 review for All Will Be Well: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    Oh, how I loved this quiet, beautiful, sad, and (at times) enraging book: the story of Irish writer McGahern’s painful childhood, including the loss of his beloved mother to cancer and his policeman father’s brutal mistreatment of the boy and his younger siblings. The portraits of the figures who populated McGahern’s early life are rich and nuanced, and the evocation of the rural Irish landscape is extraordinary. Few books move me to tears; this one did. A treasure. Read in February 2018 I have ne Oh, how I loved this quiet, beautiful, sad, and (at times) enraging book: the story of Irish writer McGahern’s painful childhood, including the loss of his beloved mother to cancer and his policeman father’s brutal mistreatment of the boy and his younger siblings. The portraits of the figures who populated McGahern’s early life are rich and nuanced, and the evocation of the rural Irish landscape is extraordinary. Few books move me to tears; this one did. A treasure. Read in February 2018 I have never felt I could do the book justice. Now, before year’s end, I’ve tried.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Declan

    How do we deal with the hurt and sadness that, from the moment we are born, begins to accumulate in our hearts? There are, in essence, two ways to respond to the degree of suffering we experience. We can decide that since life has, in a multitude of ways, been damaging to us, we should share the damage around and inflict those closest to us with their share of the hurt. Do onto others as was done to you. "Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf.", as Philip Larkin wrote. Alte How do we deal with the hurt and sadness that, from the moment we are born, begins to accumulate in our hearts? There are, in essence, two ways to respond to the degree of suffering we experience. We can decide that since life has, in a multitude of ways, been damaging to us, we should share the damage around and inflict those closest to us with their share of the hurt. Do onto others as was done to you. "Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf.", as Philip Larkin wrote. Alternatively you can make a resolute decision that since you have felt the weight of pain, you will do all you can to lighten, and enlighten, the lives of those you love. The mistakes of the past need not be repeated and can indeed be transcended, to the benefit of all. John McGahern's father was a dedicated follower of the former strategy. Intriguingly little is said about the man's early life. This is the sum total of what we are told: He had set out as a gifted, difficult only child, both over-protected and spoiled, while remaining exposed to his mother's violent corrections. From that we can at least deduce that he knew what it was to have beatings inflicted on him and, perhaps, that he was exposed to too much attention, to a degree that would prove difficult to replicate in adult life except by instilling fear in those around him. In this, at least, he was successful, but in putting emphasis on one side of our character we often expose the side we wish to keep hidden and by his actions Sargent McGahern - a member of the Irish police force - revealed that above all, and to all, he was a coward and a bully. Against the depiction of his father, and in a Manichean fashion, John McGahern offers us a portrait of kindness and stoical fortitude on the part of his mother. She was a teacher in a succession of tiny, rural schools and before he was old enough to be himself a pupil, she used to bring John along with her, instilling in him - as they walked the narrow roads and lanes - a knowledge and love of the flowers and trees they saw as they walked the mile or two to the school. For much of the time his mother was, in effect, a single parent because his father preferred to remain at the Guards barracks - a mere twenty miles away - and visited only when it suited him. During these brief engagements with his family he did, however, impose himself as a figure of rigid authority, one who would not allow his son a 'soft' upbringing. So it was that he cut off all of the curls from the young Sean's hair (Sean is the Irish version of John). The combined salaries of a teacher and a Garda Sargent would have been well above average in the economically deprived Ireland of the 40s and 50s, but the Sargent was a particularly pernicious miser and it is infuriating to read of his penny-pinching at the time when his wife was convalescing after an operation for cancer. In her letters she has to repeatedly reassure him that she is being thrifty and refraining from any hint of extravagance. That disease would eventually take Sean's beloved mother who never received a visit from her cowardly husband in the last month of her life. His only action was to have the home in which she lay cleared of all furniture so that it could be brought to the barracks. Her death lead to a catastrophically injurious situation for the then nine-year old boy and his younger siblings all of whom had to now live with a father who was utterly ill-suited to the task of raising children. His viciously violent outbursts and brutal beatings were, in his mind, justified by all he had endured and were fueled by paroxysms of self-pity: 'Of course I'm told nothing. I don't count', he began. 'I'm not consulted about anything that goes on. I don't exist. Pay no attention to me. This old fool has to carry the can for everyone so that they all can sit back. God, o God, O God, what did I do to deserve such a cross' . Somehow the children survived and became, through force of will and nature, functioning adults who could live lives that were blighted but which could become fully their own. In writing this memoir and, it would seem, in the life he lived, John McGahern showed how it is possible to take the alternative approach to one's early suffering. His was a conscious and determined decision that all of what he endured need not become the justification for adding to the suffering of others, although interestingly he never had any children of his own. One of the remarkable aspects of this book is the lack of sentimentality. Never once did I feel that he was striking a false note or overdoing the feelings he had towards his mother or indeed the negative feeling he had towards his father, strong and all as those feelings are. For me, he has achieved a remarkable feat by conveying to the reader an intimate understanding of the circumstances of his upbringing and the development of his emotional inner-life. I like the style of the writing too. There is a very appealing lyricism throughout. Even though so many awful things happen in the course of the book, he will remind us that there was always beauty there too if you looked and appreciated the glories of nature, as his mother had shown him on their walks to school, all those years before.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Before I try to rationalize my 5 star award for this book I must confess to a bias. John was my teacher at Belgrove National School (Scoil Eoin Báiste) in Dublin the late 50’. I recall only too well the brouhaha when he published his first novel and his subsequent dismissal from his post. His castigation by the local parish priest and Catholic hierarchy was something to behold "The Dark" was subsequently banned in Ireland and thereby joined an illustrious group of great Irish writers. So yes I a Before I try to rationalize my 5 star award for this book I must confess to a bias. John was my teacher at Belgrove National School (Scoil Eoin Báiste) in Dublin the late 50’. I recall only too well the brouhaha when he published his first novel and his subsequent dismissal from his post. His castigation by the local parish priest and Catholic hierarchy was something to behold "The Dark" was subsequently banned in Ireland and thereby joined an illustrious group of great Irish writers. So yes I am biased about John and his writings, in spite of having received a few doses of the cane from him during one year of schooling. I was much saddened by his passing in 2006 when I was reading this and “Amongst Women” (short-listed for the Booker Prize 1990). John’s novels, considered in the context of this memoir, take on a whole new life. “All Will be Well” is not easy reading, his childhood memories of a difficult father and a devoted mother (typical Irish family fermentation) is depressing and a challenge to the reader to continue. One must wonder in reading this book if all or anything will EVER be well! The pivotal point in his story is the heart-aching description of his beloved mother’s illness and passing and the seemingly uncaring father becoming his guardian, a role hitherto unknown to John and his family. This is not an Angela’s Ashes, its much more subtle and the deprivation is not physical but much more subtle and psychologically scarring. I know it can be said that all fiction writers are simply relaying to words their childhood and upbringing however reading this memoir makes it abundantly clear John didn’t have any choice but to tell his story in a myriad of ways through his excellent writing. This is John's final work before passing away, to my knowledge, and one feels he needed to write this to fill in a few blanks where his novels didn’t adequately explain his complex background, views and upbringing. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This book is about the author John McGahern's childhood, growing up in rural County Leitrim at the northern edge of The Republic of Ireland. He was the oldest of seven children. His father was physically abusive, but his mother he adored. Yes, he was tied to her apron strings. He loses her at a young age and he never really gets over this. He hates his father. He is incapable of forgiving his father. This is a book about family relationships. You hear only one side of the story. One rarely gets This book is about the author John McGahern's childhood, growing up in rural County Leitrim at the northern edge of The Republic of Ireland. He was the oldest of seven children. His father was physically abusive, but his mother he adored. Yes, he was tied to her apron strings. He loses her at a young age and he never really gets over this. He hates his father. He is incapable of forgiving his father. This is a book about family relationships. You hear only one side of the story. One rarely gets to hear his father's point of view. Even if I in no way doubt the truth of what we are told, it just felt wrong to never hear the other side of the argument, his father's views. Is this really something to write a book about? While you do get a picture of Irish country life in the middle of the century, Irish culture or historical events do NOT constitute the core of the book. You do clearly see the all-encompassing power of the Catholic Church in every aspect of people's lives. The narration by John Cormack captures the Irish dialect well. Look at that title: All Will Be Well: A Memoir. Really? When?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”-Gustave Flaubert I’ve recently found myself drawn to several wonderful books such as “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgaard and “Ways of Going Home” by Alejandro Zambra which examine how their life experiences influence their fiction. I thought about this again as I was reading John McGahern’s memoir of his childhood growing up in rural Ireland. For those unfamiliar with McGahern’s work, (and if so b “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”-Gustave Flaubert I’ve recently found myself drawn to several wonderful books such as “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgaard and “Ways of Going Home” by Alejandro Zambra which examine how their life experiences influence their fiction. I thought about this again as I was reading John McGahern’s memoir of his childhood growing up in rural Ireland. For those unfamiliar with McGahern’s work, (and if so by all means remedy this as soon as possible) his novels are often populated with kind female characters doing the best they can with bad situations, children doing the same, and tyrannical, often violent fathers who rule their homes with emotional distance and iron fists. Reading his fiction, I am often struck by the authenticity of these men and women he writes about and marvel at his ability to bring the compassion, brutality, and range of human emotion to the page. Reading this memoir, it’s clear the author did not have far to travel for his inspiration. Here is the kind mother who tries to protect her children as best she can until death takes her away in her early 40’s. McGahern’s love for his mother is all encompassing and unconditional and is best described by this beautiful exchange between them: "When she asked me, as she often did, "Who do you love most of all?" I would answer readily and truthfully, "You, Mother," and despite her pleasure, she would correct me. "You know that's not right, though it makes me glad." "I love God most of all." "And after God?" "Mary, my mother in heaven." "And after Mary?” "You, Mother." "You know that's not right either." "I love my earthly father and mother equally." The part of the dream that did not include my father must have been mine alone." There is however, also his father. Prone to sudden and violent mood swings who shifted from easy smiles to vicious beatings at any moment. Like most of the people in McGahern’s life, his father was complicated. After the passing of his wife, he was left to care for 7 children on his own. He did this in large part with emotional distance (he spent a remarkable time away from his family while his wife was alive and no time with as she was dying during the last month of her life) and violence, and yet perhaps even McGahern wouldn’t dispute that he sincerely wanted to keep the family together as best he could. Finally there is the child in so many of McGahern’s novels, which we see is the author himself trying to comes to terms with the loss of a nurturing mother while navigating the landmines of living with an abusive father. It’s all here. Stripped of the veneer of fiction that allows the reader to view painful things behind a wall that assures us that at least it isn’t real, never acknowledging that it is in fact far more real than we may be comfortable with. I don’t think after finishing this memoir I will be able to ever read a McGahern novel the same way again. I am not convinced that this is necessarily a bad thing. I can now enter into his worlds in sense, together in a kind of solidarity with him. Wince when he winces, raise my arms to deflect a blow from his father when he does, bask in the occasional glory or moment of peace that he does. Be it fiction or memoir, McGahern was an extraordinarily talented writer who had Flaubert’s gift of being present everywhere, visible nowhere.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Finished: 18.03.2019 Genre: non-fiction Rating: B+ #ReadingIrelandMonth19 Conclusion: The Observer hailed John McGahern as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death in 2006. My Thoughts Finished: 18.03.2019 Genre: non-fiction Rating: B+ #ReadingIrelandMonth19 Conclusion: The Observer hailed John McGahern as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death in 2006. My Thoughts

  7. 4 out of 5

    Johnnyb

    I wanted to love this book based on what the book store folks advised, and as someone with Irish blood, I am always eager to lap up another tale of horrible childhood. His was a very challenging life, moving schools repeatedly - often for no good reason - growing up with an absentee father (but not without caring, wise male role models), and enduring physical, emotional, psychological abuse at the hands of his policeman father. His father was a real bastard, a cold emotional fish, with suppressed I wanted to love this book based on what the book store folks advised, and as someone with Irish blood, I am always eager to lap up another tale of horrible childhood. His was a very challenging life, moving schools repeatedly - often for no good reason - growing up with an absentee father (but not without caring, wise male role models), and enduring physical, emotional, psychological abuse at the hands of his policeman father. His father was a real bastard, a cold emotional fish, with suppressed sexuality of one kind or another. But Sean and his siblings survive partly out of ignorance (some were so young they were unaware of what was happening) and the others, through the unconditional love of their mother, who even after her death, continues to walk with them through her memory and through prayer. The author tells the story in one chapter - still thinking about this stylistic decision - and refers to a little boat in which he could escape the barracks where his father could be so abusive. The boat is also an escape for others whom Sean knows. Is the river his route away from the violence? Not sure. I am weak on this kind of analysis. But the author brings you right into his home, tasting the food, feeling the animals, smelling the peat fires, and cringing at the violence. A good read but not five for what seemed to me to be numerous repetitive phrases, and I am not sure of the reason. One last point, this is the first book I have read by McGahern, and in the memoir he recounts how his first two books were banned in Ireland. Given his childhood, I am not surprised that his writing carried some punch, but I would have been interested in what, exactly, prompted the censoring? Maybe a strategy by the author to get you to read his earlier works? : )

  8. 5 out of 5

    Iva

    All Will Be Well is a particularly odd title; he died around the time it was published. But title choice aside, this clearly childhood- focused memoir of rural Ireland in the 50's is beautifully rendered. (I felt the influence of Laurie Lee.) McGahern's Ireland has its familiar characters--the priests, the aunts, grandparents, siblings and of course the parents. There is the (good) mother who died when he was 10 and then we are stuck with the (bad, really bad) father who makes him miserable in n All Will Be Well is a particularly odd title; he died around the time it was published. But title choice aside, this clearly childhood- focused memoir of rural Ireland in the 50's is beautifully rendered. (I felt the influence of Laurie Lee.) McGahern's Ireland has its familiar characters--the priests, the aunts, grandparents, siblings and of course the parents. There is the (good) mother who died when he was 10 and then we are stuck with the (bad, really bad) father who makes him miserable in new and creative ways throughout his life. The only criticism is that the book had no chapter breaks; the plus is that I want to read his novels as I understand that they are based on the characters in this memoir.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    When John McGaheren lost his mother to breast cancer, he was the oldest of five, just ten years old. It felt like the walls of his tentative life were coming down, with the pain of losing her, the war, the poverty in Ireland. Now, there was no buffer between him and his harsh father, who didn't seem to care much that his wife was gone. The older siblings formed strong bonds to stand against this brute. This memoir mirrors McGahern's childhood and beyond. When John McGaheren lost his mother to breast cancer, he was the oldest of five, just ten years old. It felt like the walls of his tentative life were coming down, with the pain of losing her, the war, the poverty in Ireland. Now, there was no buffer between him and his harsh father, who didn't seem to care much that his wife was gone. The older siblings formed strong bonds to stand against this brute. This memoir mirrors McGahern's childhood and beyond.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nusret Ersöz

    An absorbing fusion of McGahern's personal memory with that of Irish nation. A vivid and fluent picture of rural Ireland in 1940s-50s. The book also presents almost all the evils which a father may inflict upon his son. The following quote reveals puritanical people's ignorance and religious bigotry, which most nations suffer from even today: "A young man replaced Father Glynn for a few months when the old priest fell ill. His sermons were short and delivered quietly in plain language. They relat An absorbing fusion of McGahern's personal memory with that of Irish nation. A vivid and fluent picture of rural Ireland in 1940s-50s. The book also presents almost all the evils which a father may inflict upon his son. The following quote reveals puritanical people's ignorance and religious bigotry, which most nations suffer from even today: "A young man replaced Father Glynn for a few months when the old priest fell ill. His sermons were short and delivered quietly in plain language. They related Christianity to the lives of people and stated that reflection on the mystery of life was itself a form of prayer, superior to the mouthing of empty formulas: he touched on character assassination, backbiting, marital violence, child beating, dishonesty, hypocrisy; he claimed a primary place for personal humility and love of others and charity of mind. Many were furious. My father in the front seat was incensed. He lifted up the heavy kneeler, letting it down with a crash on the flagstones to show his disapproval. He did this three times. The young priest refused to be intimidated; he paused and looked directly at him before continuing. My father did not lack support. The criticism took the form of a deep and 203- troubled censoriousness at what the modern church was coming to. They rejoiced when Father Glynn returned. What they wanted was hell and damnation, which they could apply, like death, to other people. I suspect it is no accident that funerals remain our most frequent and important carnivals" (McGahern, Memoir).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Oisín

    "I had come to separate morals and religion, to see morals as simply our relationship with other people and the creatures of the earth and air, and religion as our relationship with our total environment." There is one bad sentence in this entire book. That's pretty impressive. McGahern manages to write about his rather dark childhood in a way that is not only full of light and life, but is actually quite soothing to read. The letters from his bullying, abusive father (all of which end "Love "I had come to separate morals and religion, to see morals as simply our relationship with other people and the creatures of the earth and air, and religion as our relationship with our total environment." There is one bad sentence in this entire book. That's pretty impressive. McGahern manages to write about his rather dark childhood in a way that is not only full of light and life, but is actually quite soothing to read. The letters from his bullying, abusive father (all of which end "Love Daddy") are posited as humorous rather than sad, and McGahern expunges any kind of bitterness (which he would be completely entitled to feel) from the book. The only true flaw in the book is that as it moves from childhood to adulthood, the pace quickens, and we see everyone whiz by in a dizzying blur; people die, but we are rarely given any sense of impact. I suppose this could be considered representative of life, a kind of Woolfian technique of conveying relativity, but it feels off, it strips the book somewhat of the generosity that characterises it. The conclusion, however, in which he describes one last walk with his mother, is deeply moving. Having read quite a few books in the past few weeks that won't shut up, it is nice to read one that relishes silence.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bruddy

    This memoir of John McGahern's early life recounts the loss of his mother to breast cancer when he was nine and the subsequent life he and his six younger siblings endured living with their domineering and abusive father in a rural police barracks in the west of Ireland, where the older McGahern presided as sergeant. But for the love and memory of his mother, he might not have broken free from his father's grasp and more than likely would never have become a writer. Since almost all life in Irel This memoir of John McGahern's early life recounts the loss of his mother to breast cancer when he was nine and the subsequent life he and his six younger siblings endured living with their domineering and abusive father in a rural police barracks in the west of Ireland, where the older McGahern presided as sergeant. But for the love and memory of his mother, he might not have broken free from his father's grasp and more than likely would never have become a writer. Since almost all life in Ireland at the time was connected in some way to the Catholic Church, McGahern, in the depiction of his parents, inevitably draws a contrast between his father's devout Catholicism and that of his mother's. Each would say the Rosary daily, each would attend Mass, each would fast at times, and attend special devotions and religious observances. But one was a petty, cruel person, and the other an unassuming, loving one. Beyond the nuanced portrayal of McGahern's family, I also enjoyed the descriptions of rural Irish life in the 1940s and 50s, which at times seemed to interlock with images from the works of Joyce, Yeats, Heaney and other writers and poets from the Emerald Isle.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen Wood

    Absolutely entranced by this and have read it the whole day. I do not know any writing about childhood that is more beautiful yet restrained, more lyrical and tender and as a tribute to his mother it is unequalled in its love and beauty. The irish landscape which she loved is described wonderfully and the symmetrical poetry of the beginning and ending so satisfying. The elegiac and reflective tone Present even when dealing with the violence of his father, is lost when he reaches adulthood partic Absolutely entranced by this and have read it the whole day. I do not know any writing about childhood that is more beautiful yet restrained, more lyrical and tender and as a tribute to his mother it is unequalled in its love and beauty. The irish landscape which she loved is described wonderfully and the symmetrical poetry of the beginning and ending so satisfying. The elegiac and reflective tone Present even when dealing with the violence of his father, is lost when he reaches adulthood particularly when he is first published, so that i wish the book just ended there and he dealt with these years separately. But to sustain such a poetic gentle mood for so long is amazing and only in the brevity of Seamus Heaney,s poem about the closeness of his mother and him as a child peeling potatoes can i think of a similar intensity and tenderness.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Peter B

    I can’t figure this out. These memoirs followed his masterful novels “Amongst Women” and “That They May Face The Rising Sun” by a few years and set out all the details of his exceptional mother, his ghastly father, the loss and the loathing, the land and times and people...that were so obviously in the former books. Characters, events, attitudes are all peeled back to reveal reality so closely that Some of the writer’s mystique is weakened. My head tells me we really didn’t need both and that th I can’t figure this out. These memoirs followed his masterful novels “Amongst Women” and “That They May Face The Rising Sun” by a few years and set out all the details of his exceptional mother, his ghastly father, the loss and the loathing, the land and times and people...that were so obviously in the former books. Characters, events, attitudes are all peeled back to reveal reality so closely that Some of the writer’s mystique is weakened. My head tells me we really didn’t need both and that there is a chance the fact undermines the fiction - but then from an academic angle it is a parallel resource beyond imagining with most authors. Just be sure to read the novels first.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Brydges

    The saying that the past is a foreign country is very true when the past is 1940s-1950s rural Ireland where McGahern was raised by a loving and kind mother, who died of cancer when he was 10, and a brutal, abusive father. While this is his specific story, the pervasive authority of the Catholic Church of which he writes, was probably a universal experience. His first novel was banned when it was published. In spite of that McGahern clearly loved the people and landscape of Ireland, and lived mos The saying that the past is a foreign country is very true when the past is 1940s-1950s rural Ireland where McGahern was raised by a loving and kind mother, who died of cancer when he was 10, and a brutal, abusive father. While this is his specific story, the pervasive authority of the Catholic Church of which he writes, was probably a universal experience. His first novel was banned when it was published. In spite of that McGahern clearly loved the people and landscape of Ireland, and lived most of adult his life with his English wife in the countryside of County Lethrim. This love shows in his writing, which is never sensationalized, and which I suppose is the reason for the title.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Claire Bowman

    This is the last book that McGahern wrote before he died and how beautiful it was to read. To end his literary career back where it all began. A book about his childhood in rural Ireland, it was his memories of his mother that stayed with me. The passages in this book when the two of them were alone, those conversations, those habits, those little nuances you never forget about someone you dearly loved. McGahern brought her back to life. A tribute to her.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    I absolutely loved this book. Though I have read numerous memoirs centered on growing up in Ireland, each is quite different, though they generally picture a childhood of suffering. This book had a real charm to it that I could never explain. The author was magnificent, and I was sorry to learn that he died soon after completing this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Betty

    I was reminded about the author when my review of his novel The Barracks was liked by a fellow reader. I thought I would read his memoir and I’m glad I did. The first couple of chapters seemed to be awkwardly phrased, but by the end it flowed fine. Maybe it just took a bit for me to catch his voice. Now I need to read his other novels.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This book is beautifully written.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    He grew up in Co. Leitrim with a violent father. Luckily he made it as a author. I have read many of his books.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marc Mc Menamin

    A moving memoir dealing with the author's childhood in Leitrim. In many ways a superb insight into an Ireland of not so long ago. A moving memoir dealing with the author's childhood in Leitrim. In many ways a superb insight into an Ireland of not so long ago.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Redmond

    Another great read. A beautiful memoir x

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Ahern

    John McGahern's story about his difficult upbringing is heart-wrenching at times. He is a wonderful storyteller and while it is a sad story (not as bad as "Angela's Ashes"), I enjoyed reading it. John McGahern's story about his difficult upbringing is heart-wrenching at times. He is a wonderful storyteller and while it is a sad story (not as bad as "Angela's Ashes"), I enjoyed reading it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Enjoyed this book completely. Being raised in an Irish enclave I was able to identify with a number of the characters described...

  25. 4 out of 5

    ciara hughes

    I got bored

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bernadette

    I absolutely adore this book. Held me gripped with enjoyment, sadness, human illness, strength compassion... A beautiful honest book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marleen

    As the title suggests, this is the story of John (Sean) McGahern's life. Having said that, it is predominantly the story of his childhood, with a relatively small part of the book dedicated to his years as an adult, up to the time of his father's death. That he would end the book with his father's passing makes sense,since this is basically the story of McGahern's troubled relationship with his father. McGahern senior was a Garda sergeant living in Police barracks as was normal at that time (the 1 As the title suggests, this is the story of John (Sean) McGahern's life. Having said that, it is predominantly the story of his childhood, with a relatively small part of the book dedicated to his years as an adult, up to the time of his father's death. That he would end the book with his father's passing makes sense,since this is basically the story of McGahern's troubled relationship with his father. McGahern senior was a Garda sergeant living in Police barracks as was normal at that time (the 1940's and 50's) in Ireland and rarely spend time with his wife and children. When he did he was an unpredictable person to be around. At times charming, "Daddy" was also overbearing, selfish, unreasonable and at times abusive. Until McGahern was 10 his loving mother formed a buffer between Sean, his sibblings and their father, giving her children an almost idylic start in life. Her death of cancer not only leaves Sean heartbroken but also means that he and his brother and sisters have to move into the barracks with their father and start living a completely different, less sheltered and much harsher life. Almost despite the 7 years he lived with his father, McGahern does well in school, trains to be a teacher, discovers books and changes his dream from being a priest to becoming a writer. Even when Sean is grown up his relationship with his father doesn't improve. Although they always remain in contact, write to and visit with each other, Sean never loses the resentment against his father he built up during his childhood and the father never seems to realize that there is anything wrong with his relationship with his children. The only other book I've read by McGahern is "That They May Face the Rising Sun", which remains one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. McGahern works magic with words. He paints verbal pictures with an amazing clarity. And he does the same in this book. And in a way that works against the story of his life. The language is almost to beautiful for me to get a real feel for how aweful life with his father was, although the beauty of his words was exactly right when McGahern was writing about his mother and his love for her. One thing I didn't like was the way McGahern would keep on repeating certain sentences. One example clearly springs to mind, a description of a route Sean and his mother would regularly walk: "Going past Brady's pool and Brady's house and the street where the Mahon brothers lived, past the dark deep quarry and across the railway bridge and up the hill past Mahon's shop to the school." This description was repeated, almost every second page in the early part of the book and again later on. And although I'm sure there is a reason why McGahern decided to use this repetition, the meaning of it completely escapes me, and it ended up irritating me a bit. On the other hand, the book also gave me a few observations that rang very true, like "There are no days more full in childhood than those days that are not lived at all, the days lost in a book" and "In that one life of the mind, the writer could live many lives and all of life". Overall I'd have to say that I'm glad I read this book. Because of the beauty of the language it was an easy book to read, even when the subject matter was harder. It was also very interesting to read about rural life in Ireland around the middle of the 20th century. McGahern would have been a contemporary of my parents, yet the contrast between the world he grew up in and the one my parents knew in Holland is striking. My rating for this book is 4-; a good and interesting read but not an exceptional one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joe McNally

    Love's lifelong branding of itself into the psyche of some human beings can seem almost cruel in the way it forces them to expose themselves to us. From the heart-shredding fictional obsessions of Jack and Ennis in Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain to the resurrectional purity of John McGahern's love for his mother - dead before his 10th birthday - in Memoir, we sometimes get to see life with savage, christening clarity. Memoir is the centrepiece of the jigsaw McGahern has had us put together thr Love's lifelong branding of itself into the psyche of some human beings can seem almost cruel in the way it forces them to expose themselves to us. From the heart-shredding fictional obsessions of Jack and Ennis in Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain to the resurrectional purity of John McGahern's love for his mother - dead before his 10th birthday - in Memoir, we sometimes get to see life with savage, christening clarity. Memoir is the centrepiece of the jigsaw McGahern has had us put together throughout his life as a novelist. If his mother had been cast as his father's wife in any piece of fiction readers would have tossed it aside as being incredible. How could a woman of such piety, empathy, intelligence and love have married a man whose hatred of the world spouted like pus on to his family and those he deemed below him in the social pecking order? McGahern senior, police sergeant and ex IRA man, deceives himself that others, including his wife and children, will judge him for how he chooses to portray himself at any time. a real-life ham actor who is immersed in the characters he becomes as his moods dictate them. Such is John McGahern's skill and his tendency towards objectivity that some might weep for the desperate childishness of his father who, we never doubt, is beyond redemption. But what redeems everything is McGahern's love for his mother. Mothers and children everywhere share deep love but McGahern, without mawkishness or sentimetality, makes me believe that his longing for the presence beside him of his mother was what formed his life from birth to his recent death. I can never imagine feeling again such a mixture of emotions when I heard he had died of cancer in Dublin (his mother died of breast cancer). Terrible sorrow at the loss of such a brilliant writer. Huge joy at the thought he might have breathed his last with the thought that his mother would be waiting for him. He'd become an atheist but I choose to cling to the hope that he believed, even if there was no God, that the spirit of his mother lived on. If so, the final paragraph of Memoir touches with all the more poignancy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bill Keefe

    Further on my journey intot he world of John McGahern, both the ones he wrote of and the one he lived. The surprise of this book was learning just how much of his life is his literature. I knew authors were counseled to write about what they know, I had never had a look into just how far they could take that. In reading, "That They May Face the Rising Sun," I learned that McGahern, like his protaganist was a writer who, later in life, with a second wife, returned to the area in which he grew up. Further on my journey intot he world of John McGahern, both the ones he wrote of and the one he lived. The surprise of this book was learning just how much of his life is his literature. I knew authors were counseled to write about what they know, I had never had a look into just how far they could take that. In reading, "That They May Face the Rising Sun," I learned that McGahern, like his protaganist was a writer who, later in life, with a second wife, returned to the area in which he grew up. As I read, "The Dark," I also knew that McGahern had grown up with a domineering father, and a mother he adored. I had no idea that each of these books were bold, stylized restatements of his actual life. Not simply the superstructure, where major events provide points of intersection, but all of it, the places, the events, the people, the emotions, the very details of the events, entered in his novels, as if he wrote them in case you never got to know of his real life. This is not a complaint, I'm simply saying how stunned I was to see this, to learn this. But in some way, I don't feel like the statement and re-statement are repetitive but more mutually supporting presentations of a life, a time, and the truths that we live with and through. The different presentations of the same circumstances are like overlapping brushstrokes in a painting, adding depth, shading and nuance. Still, I can't stop trying to break them down, pull them apart, the real and the unreal. Where does one leave off and the other begin? Did the writing of the fiction before the non-fiction influence the writing of the latter? I'm struggling with the answers to these questions and wrestling with just what the answers should mean to me. Lots of tension right now! Anyway, good read; wonderful, enriching insights, and a good look at mostly the early, formative years of this wonderful writer.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vivian Valvano

    I had been meaning to read McGahern's memoir ever since his death, but I didn't get around to it until I read the excellent Claire Keegan story "Surrender," which she acknowledged as having been inspired by something McGahern wrote in ALL WILL BE WELL. Reading the memoir was sometimes heartbreaking. McGahern's beloved mother was clearly a very special, very loving person, and her death when the author, her eldest child, was 10 left 7 children motherless. Do the math and tremble at the scenario o I had been meaning to read McGahern's memoir ever since his death, but I didn't get around to it until I read the excellent Claire Keegan story "Surrender," which she acknowledged as having been inspired by something McGahern wrote in ALL WILL BE WELL. Reading the memoir was sometimes heartbreaking. McGahern's beloved mother was clearly a very special, very loving person, and her death when the author, her eldest child, was 10 left 7 children motherless. Do the math and tremble at the scenario of Catholic 1930s-1940s Ireland in an attempt to ponder this woman's life. Then factor in that she worked full-time as a highly respected and dedicated schoolteacher, both before and during her marriage. Then factor in that she suffered immeasurably from breast cancer, which eventually spread and killed her. Her last pregnancies occurred during her illness. I hesitate to even mention McGahern's father, the GARDA Sergeant who looms over this book like a living horror. As husband and as father, the man was a son of a bitch, in plain old American English, and it's a wonder to me that McGahern and his siblings survived as they did under his sadistic domination. I have always respected McGahern for his descriptive and narrative skills and his capturing of rural Irish settings imaginatively, yet totally realistically. Now, I respect his talents all the more, as well as the strength and courage he must have had to muster to face these memories and write this book.

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