That they May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern
This is an almost perfect novel, entrancing, affecting, beautiful. It follows just over a year in the life of a rural Irish community, perhaps in the late 1970s or early 80s, centred on the Ruttledges, a middle-aged, apparently childless, couple, and circles of their friends neighbours and family. The title is explained a long way into the book, and even then is somewhat mysterious.
It’s all beautifully described, absolutely universal. Don’t you recognize this big city lady coming to visit:
When she first met the Ruttledges she expected them to be bowled over by her personality… They found her exhausting. She drew all her life from what was outside herself, especially from the impression she imagined she was making on other people…
And her father-in-law Jamesie has ‘an artificial voice he used when he was too impressed with the subject matter of his own speech’ – yes, exactly.
These people are not perfect, but they’re doing their best. There’s a kind of review cliché here: you say ‘nothing much happens in this book blah, but somehow it says more blah the whole world blah.’ So: that. McGahern is one of those writers – like WG Sebald, who is in Ireland in the extract here - whose charms are very difficult to describe. The blog described Sebald as 'a miracle of a writer', and that’s McGahern too, and the Canadian writer Alastair McLeod. You just want to tell people to go and read him and find out for themselves. And then say Thank You.
Links on the blog: More Irish writers: James Joyce, Kate O’Brien, Edna O’Brien, and a stunning picture for last year's St Patrick's Day entry. More weddings all over the blog – click on the label below.
The picture, from the National Library of Ireland, is from a wedding in the Irish town of Waterford.