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Monday, July 22, 2019

That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) by John McGahern


Book Review
That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002)
by John McGahern


   That They May Face the Rising Sun was the last novelist by Irish author John McGahern.  McGahern died in 2006, and at the time of his death he was lauded as, "the most important Irish writer since Beckett" among other accolades and plaudits.  The 1001 Books project rewarded him by removing this book from their first revision, replacing it with a book by Jose Carlos Somoza, and reducing him to one book (Amongst Women.)

  Published in the United States as By The Lake- I had a hard time tracking down a copy- since I didn't figure out about the different title until after I'd found a copy with the UK title, bought it on Amazon and then let it sit around my house for a solid year before finally gritting my teeth and sitting down to read it.

   That They May Face the Rising Sun charts a year in the life of an Irish couple who have moved back to the Irish country side after living in London, he a writer and she an advertising executive.  A reader could be forgiven if they would expect lots of information about the life left behind, but quite the opposite- both the wife and husband of the repatriated pair, the Ruttledge's do their best to obscure themselves in the farming community which surrounds them.

  The first hundred pages are so low key that they are practically somnolent- after buying this book it took me a half dozen tries to get past the first 50 pages, but the reader is rewarded, as the 'action' picks up towards the middle and end: selling lambs at the county fair, a mail order bride for the local rake, etc.  Nothing really happens with the Ruttledge's themselves- no dramatic infidelity or one or the other decamping back to London.

  The country side is evoked beautifully, as you'd expect.  

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