0426 | That They May Face the Rising Sun | John McGahern


Now I know what many are going to say on finishing this: ‘what the heck was that about? Where was the story? What was the point?’ And I have to say that had the 1001 books list not pushed me deeper into fiction than I’ve been comfortable going, I would have said the same thing earlier in my reading career.

Now, however, I can appreciate literature that doesn’t need a point, a plot or a polished ending. I can just appreciate it for what it is – literature pure and simple; writing for the joy of being written.

McGahern is Irish and writes about a couple returning from London to a rural community in their native Ireland. That there is no point and no plot is the point and plot. This is Ireland, people. Life is life, and that is what the writing consists of. Beautiful, lyrical, this is an ethnography of a vanishing world.

So, as I started out, I did find it a challenge keeping track of who the characters were. But when I finally twigged that I wasn’t supposed to try, I could just lie back and let McGahern’s prose take me along in its current. Reading the book before going to sleep each night was a perfect way to relax. The slow pace was accentuated by beautiful moments of poignant prose as small details of life and nature are described in delightful detail, such as

The sun was now high above the lake. There wasn’t a wisp of cloud. Everywhere the water sparkled. A child could easily believe that the whole of heaven were dancing.


As the couple get to know the inhabitants of their rural location, characters are fleshed out and there are moving moments as their fortunes ebb and flow with the community.

I greatly enjoyed the calm wash of the writing. It was quite soothing.

Those into Dan Brown’s formulas, contrived plot twists and mandatory cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter, stay away from this book of real writing. You don’t know how to read yet and will be confused. This is one for those of you who know what words are really for.


The morning was clear.


This far into the book, some of the plot might be revealed. If you want to see the quote, click show


They could not live with him and they could not be seen – in their own eyes or in the eyes of others – to refuse him shelter or turn him away. The timid, gentle manners, based on a fragile interdependence, dealt in avoidances and obfuscations. Edges were softened, ways found around harsh realities. What was unspoken was often far more important than the words that were said. Confrontation was avoided whenever possible. These manners, open to exploitation by ruthless people, held all kinds of traps for the ignorant or unwary and could lead into entanglements that a more confident, forthright manner would have seen off at the very beginning. It was a language that hadn’t any simple way of saying no.


This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show


0426 | That They May Face the Rising Sun | McGahern | 67% Good

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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