The Dark by John McGahern
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. First American Edition. Hardcover. 191 pages ; 22 cm. $3.95 dust jacket. Rubber stamp on flyleaf. Soiling to top of pages edge. Binding is firm. Pages are clean and unmarked.
John McGahern's first novel, The Bar-racks, was described by Anthony Burgess in The Observer as "more than just promising," by Michael Ra'tcliffe in The Sunday Times as "a novel of mesmeric power and beauty," and by David Lodge in The Spectator as dis-playing "a scrupulous yet enhancing accuracy that reminds one of the young Joyce." His* second novel, The Dark, has therefore been awaited with more than usual interest.
The setting of Mr. McGahern's new novel is the rural Ireland of his childhood. The story explores the relationship between a boy on the verge of manhood and his domineering widowed father. The father, Mahoney, is a lonely, embittered, and violent man who loves his children deeply but who is quite capable of destroying them in his rage against Fate. The boy senses the dangers that confront him in this defeat-ridden household and struggles to make his escape, but while attempting to free himself from his environment he must also fight to appease the darker demons of adolescence.
The Dark is a book of somber beauty that fully justifies the generous prophecies oc-casioned by Mr. McGahern's first novel.
John McGahern was born in Dublin in 1935 and was raised in the west of Ireland. He attended St. Patrick's Training College and University College and worked for a while as a laborer in London. For the past few years he has been a primary-school teacher in Dublin. The Barracks, his first novel, won for its author Ireland's two most distinguished literary awards—the Macaulay Fellowship for Prose Fiction and the AE Memorial Award—and he was chosen to represent his country at the 1964 Berlin Writers' Conference. Mr. McGahern is married to Annikki Laaksi, a Finnish theatrical director.
From British reviews of The Dark:
"The Dark might have been written as an antidote to the whimsy that has come out of Ireland during the last hundred years.... For this is a story that belies the tranquillity of the Irish countryside and the seeming gentleness of its people. Mr. McGahern writes with poignancy and passion. He has been likened to the early Joyce and has the same spare artistry, but in his somber sensuality and emotional depth he reminds me more of Mauriac." Olivia Manning, The Spectator
"John McGahern's second novel fully lives up to the enthusiasm generated by his first book, The Barracks. Once again the setting is rural Ireland. The story—of a boy's progression into early manhood against the crippling odds of an upbringing by a bigoted, erratic father on a poor farmstead—is there to lend itself to over-familiar pangs. Mr. McGahern makes it new by the oldest of writerly practices: taking his material from the strangeness of life rather than from art." John Coleman, The Observer
"A perfectly written tour de force. Like Robert Musil's Young Torless it creates a small world indelibly... John McGahern's gifts as a novelist are already mature with this, his second book. There are few writers in their twenties whose future work can be anticipated with such confidence and excitement." Julian Jebb, The Sunday Times
"It is a most remarkable novel. For comparisons one must look to early Joyce. The writing is concentrated and evocative... Mr. McGahern's book is the best novel to come out of Ireland for many years." Terence de Vere White, Irish Times
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