Amongst women

by John McGahern

Paperback, 1991





New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Penguin Books, 1991, Ã1990.


Moran is an old Republican whose life is transformed forever by his days of glory as a guerrilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - in a struggle to come to terms with the past.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kambrogi
This story of a retired Irish guerrilla leader from the War of Independence could be a story from almost any home. The elderly farmer is a moody, embittered and difficult man, but on some level a caring father and husband, as well. His three daughters, second wife, and two sons revolve in orbit around his gravitational force, and the product is a complex, often sad picture of family life. In this subtle character study, there is much to consider about the social roles of women and men, about dutiful family membership, about what it means to grow up and establish an identity as an adult. These people, with all their flaws, will stay with me a long time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cailin
I learned about John Macgahern through an article by Colm Toibin on NPR. Colm Toibin said of Amongst Women " It is the sort of book which you can give anyone of any age and know that they will be changed by it." Although it's a tough book to read in that there are no chapters and long paragraphs it is an excellent book. Michael Moran is an ex IRA fighter who is the dictator of his own world. He in turn charms and terrorizes his family and as harsh as that sounds I found myself admiring him in some ways. He is proud and sure and holds himself apart. It is a book that will stay with me for a long time.… (more)
LibraryThing member lriley
It's been some time since I've read 'The leavetaking' my only other foray into McGahern territory. This novel revolves around Michael Moran an ex-irish guerilla fighter in Ireland's war for independence from British rule. The somewhat embittered Moran has retired to a farm to raise his family on his own--his first wife having died. Eventually he meets Rose who he marries but she soon finds that Moran is a man of somewhat abrupt and violent mood changes--more psychologically violent than physically violent but sometimes both. Rose and Moran eventually come to an understanding but much of the book also focuses on Moran's children--the oldest boy Luke after having quarreled violently with his father has gone off to London to never return, his three daughters, Maggie, Sheila and Mona and his youngest son Michael. Moran is perhaps too proud in it a go it your own way and for the most part keeps his neighbors at a distance. Rose's introduction into the family however becomes a way for the girls to break free of the tight rein Moran holds over them. Rose encourages them to look after their futures in a world beyond the farm--something that Moran struggles with but submits to finally because logically (and Moran is logical) it's for their best and eventually off they go to lives in Dublin and in London to start careers and families. The younger son Michael left on his own with his father and stepmother then becomes their sole focus and Michael missing his sisters and bored to death alone on the farm with his parents surreptitiously drops out of school and starts drinking and chasing after women. This eventually leads to a blow-up and Michael's departure from the scene to London too. As much though as Moran has the household much of the time on edge he cares deeply for his wife and children and those feelings are reciprocated in kind. He is a difficult man mired in the past and not always very easy for his family to understand. They cope with him almost as if with somebody very ill and eventually he does become ill and dies from a series of small strokes.

Sometimes it is small themes that make a good novel--sometimes it's the subtle touches the writer uses that gives a story its strength. For instance every night the Moran family sit down to say their rosary--Moran is traditional in just about everything he does. Rejecting the new ways--compromising only when he has to to hold together his family--the children looking to the new ways and trying to hold on to some of the old. A family in flux you might say. This is very believable and is well told.
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LibraryThing member eejjennings
An excellent character study of an Irish patriarch and the impact he has on his family, esp. his daughters, in the twilight of his life.
LibraryThing member hdght
I thought this book was a great piece of Irish writing. It really captures the issues of patriarchy in the Irish Catholic community. I particularly appreciated how the writer was able to mix the fathers love of his daughters and his hatred of seeing his children become better them him in anyway. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking to know more about Irish culture and their long standing struggle with religious patriarchy.… (more)
LibraryThing member trinityofone
My Irish Literature tutor at Trinity College (a.k.a., Hot Scottish Tutor Peter Mackay, who hopefully is not reading this) said that this book would have made a better short story than it does a novel. While I enjoyed McGahern's simple, unflashy prose, I'm inclined to agree. The story covers the same ground again and again, and while the monotony of Moran's life may be part of the point, it doesn't make for the most enjoyable read.… (more)
LibraryThing member John
Amongst Women is the first thing I have read by John McGahhern, an Irish author who died recently. It is a very good novel centred on the lives of one family of three girls and two boys headed by Moran, an Irish freedom fighter retired to a small farm. During the novel, Moran marries his second wife, Rose. The novel turns around Moran, a usually taciturn man, sometimes charming, but more often mercurial and prone to outbursts of sarcasm, denigration, and where his sons are concerned, violence. He is a man who feels that the best part of his life was lived in his youth with the excitement and focus of fighting the British, and his bitterness affects everything, and everyone, thereafter. It is a novel about the complexities of human relationships, about how the baggage of experience, in life or in family, affects and shapes individual futures. It is about love that conquers resentment, about the powerful influence of the concept of family and of place related to family, about the accommodations that people undertake to keep relationships, about the inability of some to bend and to show their feelings. McGahern writes in a simple, straightforward style with good descriptions, but more of a focus on interactions and feelings. The novel feels gentle in its exploration of this family. It is very well done.… (more)
LibraryThing member CaitlinAC
I read this book for an Irish literature course.

I commend McGahern for making me passionate about this book - passionately angry. The characters were so infuriating. All of them. Luke was perhaps the least infuriating but he still got on my nerves a bit because he gave up on having a relationship with his dad or seeing his dad before he died. I understand that sometimes there is just too much negativity between people for the relationship to ever be mended but still.

Pretty much in every scene of the book I wanted to yell at a character or characters. Moran abuses his family - emotionally and physically. I thought maybe Rose would at least help with that situation but if anything she made it worse.

I was just angry that these people kept coming back even though Moran, without fail, would treat them horribly 99% of the time. Sheila finally gains enough confidence and bravery to stand up to her father, but not for her sake or her siblings'. Luke at least saw Moran more clearly than anyone else but when he expressed that he wanted to maybe try to work things out with his father, in the same breath he said it was too late. I don't think it was.

I could rant about this book for so long. I both wanted these damaged people and this broken family to work things out, and I desperately wanted his children to get away and find a happy life.

Also, McGahern would contradict himself quite often in the narrative which made the book tedious at times. The timeline of the novel is a bit hard to follow because of the formatting and lack of standard chapters. At times the narrative was completely unorganized, jumping from the past to the present, to the future, and then back. Also, there were almost transitions from one scene to another. Oh, it's this day and this is happening oh look it's now this is happening and it's the next morning but I don't say that right away because I like to be unorganized and unclear. As well, sometimes I would get hints of things like inappropriateness - if you catch my drift - from Moran towards his children, but it was never really elaborated on. Why include it in the first place?

I gave it two stars because despite all of the problems and how much it angered me, the book did manage to make me feel strongly about the story. If a writer can accomplish that, they've not got a completely unsuccessful novel.
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LibraryThing member sometimeunderwater
Wonderfully delicate and human. The Irish patriarch at the heart of this tale, Michael Moran, is one of the most believable characters in recent fiction. Reminds me somewhat of my father. Perhaps he reminds everyone somewhat of their father...
LibraryThing member LovingLit
I started this book last year and left it lying fallow for a few months, then picked it up again seeing as I thought to tidy up a few loose ends in the new year. On the back it says something like- read it in two hours, but it will limger for months. Well, it took me a lot longer than 2 hours to read, but I'll admit the characters are keepers.

Moran is the head of the household in rural Ireland. He is gruff, moody and suspicious of those outside the family. The family consists of himself, and his five children, the eldest of which is now London-based and non communicado. He prefers not to engage with a father he sees as domineering and cruel. The three middle children are young women who put up with their father, feeling that he is the heart of a family that they simply cannot exist without the support of. Youngest is Michael, who gets incrementally less happy when each of his siblings grows up and moves out.

The story is told over a period from when Moran brings a wife into the house, who is able to both put up with and quell the moods of her husband, the moods which so dominate the household. The comings and goings of the children, the hay harvests, the introduction of boyfriends/fiancées, and the increasing conflict arising between the remaining son and his father make up the fabric of the story. It is deep storytelling, in spite of the few pages it is told in. And it handles very well the issue of how fine a line abuse can straddle.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
Amongst Women (1990), Irish Times/Aer Lingus Literary Award (1991), GPA Award (1992), nominated for the Booker Prize (1990).
Moran is the father of three daughters and two children. He is an embittered Irish Republican soldier. Moran marries Rose, his second wife. Everyone lives their lives in step with Moran's moods which change quickly without warning. Everyone except the one son who leaves before the story begins.

I enjoyed this novel very much. I think the author's best achievement was to describe the aging process of this man who had so much influence on those around him.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Michael Moran is a former IRA soldier, now approaching the end of his life. The story tells of his life as a single parent, raising two boys and three girls. The oldest son is estranged from the family by the time Moran meets and marries Rose. This is a family saga as we watch the children grow up and move on to their own lives. We also see how Moran has acted as the patriarch of this family, with behaviour that is both emotionally and, at times, physically abusive. But, as with most families, the children have different perceptions of and reactions to their father's ways. An interesting examination of family life, very real in its portrayals.… (more)
LibraryThing member bodachliath
This is a short, austere and powerful story of a family dominated by a proud and petty tyrant. I remember seeing some of a bleak TV adaptation many years ago, which left me doubting whether I would enjoy the book, which I read as part of Goodreads' The Mookse and the Gripes group's latest project to discuss a historic Booker shortlist, this time 1990, which was the year when Possession won the prize.

Moran is a widowed veteran of the Irish wars of independence who runs a small farm with his five children. The opening part of the book introduces the family as they get together in his old age to try and revive his failing spirit. It is already clear in this section that he is a proud and difficult man to live with. The rest of the book is chronological, starting when his three daughters and youngest son are teenagers but the eldest son Luke has already left for London. He marries the self-effacing and saintly Rose, who has to do all of the running to get them together but soon forms a powerful bond with the three daughters. Moran's violent temper and unpredictable mood swings are oppressive even to the reader. The story follows Moran as his remaining children move away, with all but the estranged and unforgiving Luke returning to the farm frequently.

McGahern eventually succeeds in making you understand why the family tolerate and even love this monster, and by the end of the book one almost feels sorry for him. This is an eloquent and ultimately rather beautiful book.
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LibraryThing member rocketjk
In Amongst Women, Irish novelist John McGahern takes us back to the 1950s and inside the home of the Moran family in rural County Sligo. The five children are in their teens as we start, except for Luke, who is already out of the house, living in London, and refusing to communicate with his father or return home for any reason. The mother is evidently dead (she is barely mentioned). The father, Michael (known throughout the narrative almost exclusively as "Moran"), is identified early on as a veteran of the IRA flying columns during the uprising against British rule several decades earlier. He is also identified as a man of smoldering anger whom his children, and soon his second wife, often have to tiptoe around so as not to ignite that fury. In the meantime, life is changing in rural Ireland in ways that Moran is not particularly comfortable with.

This book is considered to be McGahern's masterpiece. It is tersely written, with a particularly effective portrayal of the claustrophobia of rural family life. As such, it's not always comfortable to read, as the tension in the household transmits frequently to the reader. The dynamics of family are also well drawn, as the four children and Rose, the new wife, make excuses for Moran's unpleasantness and revel in the times he flashes humor and warmth instead.

The problem for me is that the daughters seemed barely distinguishable as characters. Only the youngest sibling, brother Michael, and Rose get anywhere near a full fleshing out as individuals. Also, the theme of the household with the angry, abusive (in this case chiefly psychologically) father runs through so many Irish novels that, realistic as it may be, I feel by now that I'd occasionally like a break. The family as a unit is the real character, here, and the strength of that unit is shown as unshakeable. The book is engrossing, but perhaps from my California remove I missed some of its resonance.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This is a short book, only 184 pages, but it packs a punch. It is on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die and it is also one of the 100 Best Novels the Guardian chose a few years ago. It is set in the Republic of Ireland and, although the time period is never given, from clues about the way of life I feel sure that it takes place in the 1950s. It centers on Michael Moran, former freedom fighter during the Irish Civil War of the 1920s, now a farmer in the midland area of the Republic of Ireland.

Moran is the father of five children, three girls and two boys. The children's mother is dead and the oldest girl, Maggie, manages the household for her father. The oldest child, Luke, left home to settle in London and has never returned to the family home due to some unnamed argument with Moran. At the post office one night while waiting for the evening mail Moran falls into conversation with Rose who has recently returned to the area from Scotland to help her mother and brother cope with their father's death. Moran walks partway home with Rose and is so charming that she sets her cap for him. She is warned that Moran is different at home but she still marries him.This frees Maggie to go to London to take nurses' training. Shortly the other two girls leave to take civil servant jobs in Dublin although Mona was offered university scholarships. She wanted to go to university and possibly become a doctor but Moran is against that. And what Moran wants, Moran gets. It is true that Moran is far different at home than he is in public. All the children are tense around him and watch him carefully to see if he is having a good or a bad day. The women, Rose and the daughters, seem to be able to manage him when he is in a foul temper but both boys have to leave home in time. Moran is deeply religious; he says the Rosary every night with everyone in the household, goes to church, and says grace before every meal. However, he is of the "wrathful God" type of religion and in his household he expects to be obeyed.

I couldn't help but compare Moran with my own father since they would probably have been of a similar age. Both were farmers and in the 1950s my father's farm would have been much like Moran's.My father left school at age 14 and Moran was about that age as well. However, my father never fought in any wars and I can't help but think that explains why Moran was so dictatorial and my father was easy to get along with. I rarely saw my father in a temper and he certainly never raised a hand to any of us. Or perhaps Moran just had a mercurial personality that he felt free to impose on anyone around. He certainly would have been hard to live with.
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