Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto 1997) [0 7453 1220 9]

Table of Contents
THEORIES [birth of the nation; cultural nationalism; novel and nation; nonvel and nation as imagined communities; novel as allegory; novel as resisteance; novel as carnival; onclusion]; Forms [the author; anthropology or fiction; stereotypes; alienation; the [writer]; narrative as event, metafiction and the unstable novel, decolonisation; The reader: writer for the coloniser, writing for the post-colonial;
THEMES: madness and dreams; colonial and mental health, the Gaelic tradition of fantasy and macabre, Irish Goth, Literature and madness, Family matters, the city and the country] Part II: RODDY DOYLE AND THE NEW IRISH FICTION [65]:Commitments; The Snapper; The Van; Bolger, The Journey Home [73]; Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha [76]; The Woman who Walked into Doors; Kathleen Ferguson, The Maid’s Tale [88]; Mary Morrissey, Mother of Pearl [91]; Lia Mills, Another Alice [93]. APPENDIX, Interview with Doyle [98].
THE NOVEL AND THE NORTH: Deirdre Madden, Hidden Symptoms [113]; Eoin MacNamee, Resurrection Man [120]; Colin Bateman, Divorcing Jack; Glenn Patterson, Burning Your Own [126]; Robert McLiam Wilson, Ripley Bogle [132], Mary Beckett, Give Them Stones [135]; Eugene McCabe, Death and Nightingales [138]; Kate O’Riordan, Involved [140].
BORDERLANDS, Far from the Land: James Ryan, Home from England [146]; Joseph O’Connor, Cowboys and Indians [148], Desmond Hogan, A Farewell to Prague [153]; Queer Nation: Emma Donogue, Stir-Fry [157]; Tom Lennon, When Love Comes to Town [160]; Donoghue, Hood [163]. Bringing it all back home: Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, The Bray House [166]; Richard Kearney, Sam’s Fall [168]; John McGahern, Amongst Women [171]. CONCLUSION: Politics of change [174]. Notes, Bibliography, Index.

 

The book’s ethos is pedagogical rather than monographic; to bring a number of critical, theoretical and historical discourses into active, illuminating cross-fertilisation, and then to discuss a seletion of significant documents which I believe reveal something of the complex and changing society from which they have emerged’ Notes absence of sections of Binchy and Banville. [1]

Ireland the first English colony; Ireland was also one of the first geographical locations in the world to begin the process of decolonisation [3]; all post-colonial formations are affected by this “identitarian” imperative. [4]

Mother ireland fused with Mother Church [9; quoted in Susan Parlour, MA Diss., UUC, 2008.]

Cites Richard Kearney’s Open Letter to Mary Robinson asserting that with her election ‘we have performed a rite of passage from past to future ... from outworn piety to a more enabling sense of possibility ... a modern enlightened Republic where each citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities.’ (‘Letters to a New Republic - Three Open Letters to Three Presidents’, in Bolger, Letters from the New Island, Raven Arts 1992, p.309.)

‘Oh yeah, the Great Irish Novel, jesus man, a computer could write that. A bit of mother love, a touch of suppressed lust, a soupcon of masochistic Catholic guilt, a bit of token Brit-bashing, whole shitloads of limpid eyes and flared nostrils and sweaty Celtic thighs, all wrapped up in a sauce of snotgreen Joycean wank.’ (Cowboys and Indians, p.137.)

Smyth: Thus the nation is always present (allowing nationalist activity) and always absent (that which nationalist discourse is working to realise) ... the central paradox of nationalism [12]

Kearney, ‘[..] one must discriminate between different kinds of political nationalism - those which emancipate and those which incarcerate, those that affirm a people’s cultural identity in dialogue with other peoples and those that degenerate into ideological closure - into xenophobia, racism and bigotry. ‘Post-modernity and National: A European perspective’, Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 38, no. 3 (Autumn 1992, p.586). [14]

Francis Stuart; ‘National literature is to my mind a meaningless term. Literature can’t be national. Literature is individual. Nationality has nothing to do with it.’

John Banville: ‘I must say I’ve never felt apart of any movement or tradition, any culture even ... I feel a part of my culture. But it’s purely a personal culture gleaned from bits and pieces of European culture of four thousand years. It’s purely something I have manufactured. I dont think any writer ever felt part of a culture.’ (Ronan Sheehan, Interview with Stuart and Banville, in Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies, pp.408, 411.

The “war” is not Ireland’s central drama. Ireland’s central drama is - and always has been - the conflict between private life and public fantasy [...] maybe this new concentration on the dignity of the individual lives is what is so powerful - and so profoundly political - in the work of the new Irish writers which my correspondent so roundly chastises’ (The Secret World of the Irish Male, 1995, p.139 [17-18]

Benedict Anderson: the novel, he claims, is linked to the nation in that they imagine similar communities, that in fact the novel ‘provided the technical means for “re-presenting” the kind of imagined community that is the nation.’ (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso 1983, p.25; here p.19.)

Frederic Jameson: [the novel] is essentially a socio-symbolic message ... form is immanently and intrinsically an ideology in its own right’ (The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Methuen 1981, p.141.)

Frederic Jameson [in post-colonial fiction]: criticises ‘[the novel as a] rewriting or restructuration of a prior historical and ideological subtext, it being always understood that the “subtext” is not immediately present as such, not some common-sense external reality, not even the conventional narratives of history manuals, but rather must in itself always be (re)constructed after the fact.’ (p.81.)

Smyth expounds Jameson’s position as a expression of the limitations imposed on post-colonial fiction in its allegorical character, an impoverishment due to its being written and read in terms of ‘some fundamental master code or “ultimately determining instance”.’ (Jameson, p.58)

Frederic Jameson, ‘the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public national project.’ (‘Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational capitalism’, Social Text, No. 15, Fall 1986, p.69) [20]

Smyth speaks ‘a decolonising Irish nation with an active cultural (and therefore allegorical?) impulse, alongside a highly developed Anglo-Irish cultural imagination alive to its own contradictions.’ [21]

Many Irish Nationalists felt that the novel was inadequate to the task of representing a nation. The novel it [sic] felt, was a form which had emerged specifically form the concerns of British cultural history and the existence of its leisured middle class. Given the distortions of which it was capable and the kind of readership it seemed to attract, the novel was a debased cultural form wherein it was impossible to address the serious concerns of nation-building. [25; quoted in Susan Parlour, MA Diss., UUC, 2008.]

[...] not allowing theory to dominate the critical process, but seeing theory rather as a point, or a series of points, of departure for criticism. [25]

Heaney characterises the Irish landscape as a sort of manuscript which Irish people have lost the skill to read. (The Sense of Place) [27]

Smyth follows Bakhtin’s definition of the novel as carnavalesque (reintroducing heteroglossia as a response to the monologic of totalitarian ideology), and finds: ‘Here lies the root of cultural nationalism’s antipathy to the novel. In cultural nationalist discourse the novel is required to forsake its carnavalesque inheritance in order to carry out the primate nationalist directive of representing and embodying the imagined community. The novel is expected to function as a straightforward statement, an “allegory” in Jameson’s terms .... Cultural nationalism appropriates the novel, compelling it to perform monologic ideological tasks for which, as an essentially dialogic form, it is fundamentally unsuited. The novel it would seem, is capable of articulating and resisting both cultural colonialising and cultural nationalism. [29]

Theorising in terms of historical tendencies rather than universal attributes allows for a much more flexible and sensitive criticism. [30]

cluster of critical and theoretical concepts [30]

performativity [39]

The Wild Irish Girl (1806) [involves a discourse] heavily dependent upon English notions of what life in the Celtic margins should be - romantic, sentimental, wild [44] and natural, capable of healing the rift between Nature and an overly refined European civilisation in danger of complete enervation. .../... It could be said that the Ireland of Lady Morgan functions as a sort of English unconscious - a site where the fears and desires reperssed under the pressure of the ral world of capitalism and imperialist politics surface. This is a typical strategy of containment, a means of securing one’s own identity by the invocation of all that is different yet uncannily familiar and attractive at the same time. History is reduced to personality and “Ireland” becomes the quaint, exotic, romantic object of the colonial gaze./ What The Wild Irish Girl reveals, in fact, is the radical instability of an Irish identity founded on conflicting notions of equality and difference, and the formal problems ensuing from such a wide discrepancy between narrative and audience. Instead of Bakhtinian carnival the Irish novel can all too readily degenerate into a kind of fictional zoo - a space where sophisticated English readers may visit to marvel at the sheer otherness of Ireland before returning once again to the security of metropolitan normality.’ [45]

Note that the above critique is much less ambivalent about post-colonial interpretation than the introductory section would suggest; elsewhere, Smyth refers to the ‘infamous’ Wild Irish Girl. [36]; in referring to her as ‘doubly alienated’ because of her ‘hyphenated national identity’ and her gender, he seems to miss the point that she was not Anglo-Irish. [45]

Accepts ‘visions, magic, and humour’ as three things inherited from Gaelic tradition [51], citing Mercier in the ftns.

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) is characterised by a combination of narrative complexity, emotional hysteria, and the incursion of supernatural systems on a hopelessly flawed and corrupt “real” world. In the gothic vision, any hope of social change in the present is belief by the persistence of the sins of the past. The message is that we are all victims of history, only most have to recognised it yet. Gothic thus becomes a way of indicting the [52] present, allowing the novelist to offer a perspective on the immediate in terms of the metaphysical and the universal, but without having to invest in any consoling vision or compensatory myth, precisely because ther is nothing to be done. [53]

Kilfeather, ‘Gothic fiction enables Irish writers to address anxieties about speech and silence, to accuse the state and the family of psychological terrorism without having to propose a program [sic] of reform. It allows women in particular to question why their sexuality is so often implicated in the violence and guilt of their fathers’ experiences. It demands some reflection on what possibilities for change are allowed by an obsession with the memory of the dead. (Siobhán Kilfeather, ‘Origins of the Irish Female Gothic’, Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vo. 1 No. 2, Autumn 1998, p.46.) [53]

C. L. Innes, Woman and Nation in Irish Literaure, (Athens, Ga.: Georgia UP 1993), p.174.

Arnold: ‘No doubt the sensibility of the Celtic nature, its nervous exaltation, have something feminine in them [sic], and the Celt is thus peculiarly disposed to feel the spell of the feminine idiosyncrasy; he has an affinity to it; he is not far from its secret.’ (On the Study of Celic Literature, Smith, Elder & Co.; 1900 edn. p.90.)

Kiberd, ‘The revivalists [i.e., ‘rebels’] had won: the fathers with their heroes and ghosts of the past. The revolutionaries were snuffed out: the sons with their hopes of self-creation in the image of an uncertain future. Yet the revenge of the fathers was barren in almost every respect, since it represented a final surrender to received modes of thought.’ (Inventing Ireland, p.393).[57]

Lloyd: ‘where the principal organising metaphor of Irish nationalism is that of a proper paternity, of restoring the lineage of the fathers in order to repossess the motherland, Joyce’s procedures are dictated by adulteration.’ (‘Adulteration and the Nation’, Anomalous States, Lilliput 1993, p.105)

Cites O’Toole on the prioritisation of the rural in the definition of Irishness. ‘Going West: The City Versus the Country in Irish Writing, Crane Bag, 9, 2 1985, cp.113; also, ‘For the last hundred years, Irish culture and in particualr Irish writing has been marked by this dominance of the rural over the urban, a dominance based on a false oppositin of the country to the city which has been vital to the maintenance of a conservative political culture in the country.’ (p.111) [61]

Quotes Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments: ‘“The Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads.” They nearly gasped: it was so true. ‘An’ Dubliners are the niggers of Ireland. The culchies have fuckin’ everythin’. An’ the northside Dubliners are the niggers o’ Dublin. Say it loud, I’m black an’ I’m proud.”’ Commitments, (p.13.)

[Regarding ‘the formation of identity in relation to place’ in Roddy Doyle and Dermot Bolger]: ‘Whereas Doyle set his books in the fictional, albeit typical, area of Barrytown, Bolger maps a much more literal city, describing an urban landscape familiar to many readers of Irish fiction and to most Irish people. But if the geography is local, the actions described - lust, prostitution, hypocrisy, corruption are all part of a much wider condition for which the new Dublin is seemingly not prepared. The Journey Home is thus as much anthropological and polemical as novelistic in its orientation, constructed by its author to shock a complacent Irish bourgeoisie with its angry portrayal of a disaffected, betrayed Irish generation.’ (p.77.)

On Kathleen Ferguson: ‘The novel shows Brigid becoming her own author, in effect her own god. Rather than having her life described in terms of other people or institutions, she tells her own story in her own words, thus reclaiming the sense of self which the Church had insisted she sacrifice. The Maid’s Tale is written in the form of an oral history, and Brigid’s resistance to patriarchal ideology is supported by the control she exerts over her own narrative. Telling the story of her life is an enabling act for Brigid, a way of affirming identity in the present. She insists en ordering her own life, allowing space to certain things while omitting others, employing her own idiom and her own perspectives to combat the weight of institutional discourse. The narrative ethos is one of the spoken rather than the written word. Brigid does not try to pretend that her version is objective or uninfluenced by her position in the present. This narrative is alive, and the reader is invoked throughout and invited to take an active part in the narrative process.’ (pp.88-91.)

‘“The dynamics of madness” (p.97) comes to replace the normal dynamics of communication and rationality to which even sectarianism nominally subscribes. / But who or what is to blame for all this? The answer, it seems, is the city itself, which “had decided to devise personality for them, assign roles, a script to accompany a season of coming evil”. (p.159) Violence is the condition-zero of the city, its architecture a map of strife and enmity. Naming its streets and estates is part of Kelly’s education into violence, and he is an avid pupil of all the city has to teach him by way of sectarian history. “He felt the city become a diagram of violence centred about him. Victor got a grip on the names.” (p.11) Evil, unchanging and elemental, is built into the architecture and the landscape; according to the moral economy of the novel, Kelly is just more honest than most in his acknowledgement of this. / In a sense, then, the novel is about its own possibility, the possibility of a language that can communicate the reality of politically motivated, savagely executed violence. […] Language, it seems, has taken on a life of its own, exceeding authorial intention. Likewise, once it is introduced into any discourse as a possibility, violence possesses the ability to exceed any ‘intention’ couched in political or cultural terms, to take on a life in and for itself. All it needs, the novel suggests, is someone like Kelly to take violence to its extreme, logical end - the logic of random, brutal, indiscriminate chaos. / Sectarianism, then, is just a convenient handle upon which to hang our need for violence, its occasion rather than its cause. Violence is a symptom of life, especially of modern life in which to be human is to be inauthentic, to lack will or agency, to lack, [122] crucially, the ability to change except through ever more fundamental destruction. […]’ (Smyth, op. cit., 1997, pp.121-22.)

‘Colin Bateman manages to introduce a comic perspective into the thriller format to produce perhaps the first “comedy thriller” dealing with the “Troubles” [...]’ (p.123.) ‘The underlying message of the text would appear to be twofold. First, there has to be a space within the imagination of Northern Ireland for non-bigoted, politically sceptical, Protestant atheists. In this respect, Bateman’s novel can be seen as part of the process whereby the Protestant Unionist tradition is attempting to break free of its image as a narrow reactionary culture and reveal itself instead as a complex and subtle modern identity. Secondly, the novel seems to insist that violence has by and large ceased to be a matter of ideology in Northern Ireland, and that like the gangster films and thrillers which are inscribed into the text at both formal and thematic levels, violence is now just a matter of business. These messages, moreover, are quite obviously linked, for if Divorcing Jack is innovative in its introduction of the techniques of postmodern thriller to the context of [125] Northern Ireland, it is entirely typical in its imagination of a world in which violence is endemic and change is impossible. [...]’ (pp.125-26]

‘Having rejected Irishness, England provides no answers either. It is as if despite the claims to non-affiliation, Bogie has been permanently marked by his youth and background, and there is no true escape from it, either physical or psychological. England and exile, the traditional answers to the contradictions of Irish identity, have failed also. In Cambridge he finds a cohort of Thatcher’s privileged children desperately looking for some authenticity (of the kind they suppose he has left behind in Belfast) to fill their hollow lives, while as a tramp in London he discovers at sordidly close quarters the darkness at the heart of modern civilisation. / So cultural hybridity, rather than offering Bogie a positive and enabling set of options, actually robs him of any power other than that of indicting both sides and adopting a spurious position above (or rather, below) and beyond.the real world. He has sampled both, in Belfast, Cambridge and London, has intimate knowledge of both, and disdains both. Bogie decides to opt out of history, not to start again but to retreat into some state of non-being. This leaves him, literally, with nowhere to go, except to a deeper form of exile from the ‘acceptable’ world of the 1980s into the underworld of the drop-outs and discarded humanity living in the cracks of what passes for ‘normal’ modern life. / This search for alternative perspective is built into the very structure of the novel, taking the form of a parodic discourse which samples but offers no investment in any of the received novelistic reactions to the ‘Troubles’. The novel rehearses the three standard tropes of traditional Northern Irish fiction: the involvement of Bogie’s friend Maurice in paramilitary activities (thriller); his ‘love-across-the-barricades’ with the middle-class Protestant Deirdre (national romance); and his exile to Cambridge and affair with the English rose Laura (domestic fiction). As it turns out, however, Ripley Bogle turns out to be a ‘fiction’ in more than one sense, for these narrative tropes are exploded, revealed at the end of the narrative as an elaborate set of lies. The truth is far from the story of sexual success and proud disdain for the rat race that Bogie would have us believe in the earlier parts of the narrative; it is, rather, a story of guilt, cowardice, betrayal and failure. / Bogie, moreover, is an unreliable narrator who parodies his own unreliability, always remaining one step ahead of the interpretative game. The novel contains a metanarrative strand which constantly reminds the reader of the constructed nature [134] of this, and any other, narrative.’


Quotes Homi Bhabha (The Location of Culture, 1994): The move away from the singularities of ‘class’ or ‘gender’ as primary conceptual and organizational categories has resulted in an awareness of the subject positions - of race, gender, generation, institutional location, geopolitical locale, sexual orientation - that inhabit any claim to identity in the modern world. What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood - singular or communal - that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself. (pp.1-2; quoted in Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in New Irish Fiction, Pluto 1997, p.144.)

Quotes James Ryan: Home From England (1995): ‘They were soldiers once. Most of them fought in the First World War and all of them fought in the War of Independence. That is when they became heroes, almost fifty years ago, when they won freedom for Ireland. At the time everyone thought that when one era ends a new one begins. But it didn’t turn out like that. it went on being the end of an era and the men went on being heroes and everybody waited and waited and waiting became an era in itself.’ (p.16; quoted in Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction, London: Pluto Press 1997, p.149.)

‘The engagement with fashion is also a question of narrative technique, as the narrator seems just as concerned as Eddie to consolidate his street credentials. The pace is fast, the tone inyour-face. Much of the narrative is taken up with dialogue, and the narrative remains more or less present-centred and hero-centred throughout. It becomes increasingly difficult, in fact, to separm Eddie’s voice zone from that of the narrator; both are simultam. ously brash and diffident, confident and self-doubting, always Labtent on being up-to-the-minute cool. As a consequence there is a somewhat hollow ring to many of the exchanges and scenes, as worlds of narrative and narration threaten to collapse into other. When, for example, Eddie goes for a job on a building his potential bosses ask him “if he knew the difference between joist and a girder. Eddie said yeah, Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake and Goethe wrote Faust. They didn’t see the joke’ (p. 183). Now, this is an old joke in Ireland, the point being that the nation’s intellectual heritage is lost on a brand of English racist who sees the Irish as working-class fodder. The joke depends very precisely, moreover, upon the puns made available by the words’joist’ and ‘girder’ and in that order. However, to the extent that it has a definite discursive s status outside the fictional narrative - in terms of extra-narrative realm of narrator, author and a specific encoded Irish reader – the joke detaches itself from the surrounding narrative discourse and compromises the reader’s engagement with the story. / Nevertheless, O’Connor’s representation of a flawed, fashion-conscious Irishman in London, unwilling to fade into an expatriate ghetto or to turn the other cheek to a residual racism, signals a challenge to the nation’s traditional emigrant culture. […]’ (pp.152-53.)

Quotes Eibhear Walshe: post-colonial countries, like Ireland, have particular difficulty with the real presence of the homoerotic, because colonialism itself has a gendered power relation and, inevitably, casts the colonizing power as masculine and dominant and the colonized as feminine and passive […]The emergent post-colonial nation perceives the sexually different as destabilizing and enfeebling, and thus the lesbian and gay sensibility is edited out, silenced.’ (‘Oscar’s Mirror’, in Í O’Carroll & E. Collins, eds., Lesbian and Gay Visions of Ireland, p.98; here p.156.)

On Emma Donoghue (Stir-fry): ‘The tactics employed by Donoghue as she sets about normalising lesbianism include engagement with traditional narrative modes, concentration on individual psycholo&y and the avoidance of stereotypes. Stir-fry is a variation on the traditional Bildungsroman novel, a form which seems particularly suited to the ‘coming-out’ narrative so fundamental to modern homosexual discourse. Maria, as so many novelistic heroes and heroines before her, leaves the country and the family embrace to find herself in the city. Through an interwoven process of social and psychological development she reaches a sense of that self and with at least one element of her identity finally named - lesbian. It is unclear if she will manage to come out to her family, as the novel makes it clear that lesbianism is still a problem for the traditional religious and familial discourses informing Irish society. But by concentrating on Maria’s self-discovery and the melodrama of the triangular relationship rather than the wider social status of lesbianism, focus remains on the narrative rather than on the ‘issue’. In the process of rejecting jael’s seduction, Maria realises that she wants Ruth. The text thus remains true to its Bildungsroman form and reaches a traditional point of closure - the selfconstitution of the central character through recognition of her significant other.’ (p.159; also remarks on Hood and quotations from same.)

[…] Moran’s bitterness and frustration are due in one respect to the fact that he reached the climax of his life at such an early age, and that life in post-colonial Ireland offers few opportunities for growth or self-exploration. The power and respect he commanded in his youth can only be remembered or lost, eroded but never recovered. His life is thus an echo of what it could be, a constant rehearsal rather than an actual performance; throughout the day of his marriage to Rose, for example, Moran ‘felt a violent, dissatisfied feeling that his whole life was taking place in front of his eyes without anything at all taking place’ (p. 45).

However, Moran’s anger at his self-inflicted exclusion from post-revolutionary Ireland feeds into deeper social and psychological losses. Having failed in the public sphere, Moran attempts to dominate the domestic sphere, thus hoping to compensate for his loss of power by installing himself as a patriarch in his own family. […] The family is important to Moran not because it is the cornerstone of the community nor for any genuine regard, but because it is vital to his own identity: “Families were what mattered, more particularly that larger version of himself - his family” (AW, p.22). / With the loss of his sons and his few male friends Moran is increasingly ‘amongst women’ - an ironic reference to the line from the ‘Hail Mary’ (‘Blessed art thou amongst Women’), the repeated recitation of which constitutes a major part of the Rosary. […] The narrative reveals that the Rosary was always an ambiguous weapon for an Irishman such as Moran in as much as it constitutes a tacit acknowledgement of the power of women and their centrality to patriarchal discourse. By choosing the domestic sphere as his theatre of operations, Moran confirms rather than mitigates his loss of power. This is because he is engaging with a discourse specifically characterised as female in post-revolutionary Ireland, especially after the Constitution of 1937 which included one article stating that ‘the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved’. Amongst Women offers an ambiguous image of life in modern Ireland in which traditional gender roles have been reversed. For the women walking from Moran’s grave ‘it was as if each of them in their different ways had become Daddy’ (AW, p.183); of the husbands and brothers and sons, on the other hand, Sheila says: ‘Will you look at the men. They’re more like a crowd of women’ (p.184). / There is in fact a formal and thematic economy at work throughout the narrative which weighs a note of elegy for the loss of Irish manhood against a celebration of the re-empowerment of women and the breakdown of artificial gender borders imposed by the post-colonial state. The narrator gives many clues to Moran’s personality, as well as offering the occasional bald summary, for example: ‘No matter how favourably the tides turned for him he would always contrive to be in permanent opposition’ (AW, p.163). It is not possible, however, to discern or to adopt a final position regarding Moran from these offerings, and the question of the morality of ‘permanent opposition’ is left to the individual reader and the particular array of resources brought to bear on the text. / What the novel does achieve, however, is an astute portrayal of a post-colonial life in which disappointment and frustration are the typical informing emotions, at the level of both individual and state. Such a portrayal, moreover, operates not just at the level of plot; rather, through such narrative techniques as intra-textual repetition (for example, the coming of the Wren Boys on pp. 35 and 100) and extra-textual allusion (for example, the Yeatsian echoes on pp. 80 and 84), McGahern creates an organic narrative in which meaning is alive, active and readergenerated rather than passive and author-imposed. Amongst Women makes deceptively easy reading, but the balance between what the narrator tells the reader and what the reader is enabled to infer from the characters’ actions and words, as well as from the overall structure of the narrative, is brilliantly maintained.’ (pp.172-73.)

 

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