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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ode to family
This book was a gift from an Irish friend some years ago. I only picked it up two weeks ago and started reading it: I shouldn't have waited that long, this is a great book.

It's not an 'easy' story though: a former Irish war hero, Moran, lives in the Irish countryside with his four teenage children (one boy and three girls, the oldest son Luke moved away to...
Published on 7 Nov. 2007 by Stijn Kelchtermans

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3.0 out of 5 stars "She seemed willing to go to almost any length to appease, lull his irritation to rest..."
This is a story that makes it’s mark on the reader, whether one wants it to or not. Their mother died early, leaving three girls and two boys. The children have learned since her death to accommodate their father. Everything has to be done for him in the house, and the girls have learned well. He keeps a herd of cows and is meticulous with his animals, as he is in...
Published 12 months ago by Eileen Shaw


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ode to family, 7 Nov. 2007
By 
Stijn Kelchtermans (Antwerp, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
This book was a gift from an Irish friend some years ago. I only picked it up two weeks ago and started reading it: I shouldn't have waited that long, this is a great book.

It's not an 'easy' story though: a former Irish war hero, Moran, lives in the Irish countryside with his four teenage children (one boy and three girls, the oldest son Luke moved away to London after a personal conflict with his father) and Rose, his second wife. We follow the life of the family: how Moran lives alone with the children, gets to know Rose and marries her, the often difficult relation with his children: his second son follows his brother's example and migrates to London. This book is a character sketch of a stubborn, dominant, but also loving father. At first sight, not the type of book where the reader easily identifies with one of the characters. Nevertheless, in a subtle way the story draws you into the life of this traditional catholic family. The underlying theme is universal: intergenerational troubles and difficult inter-human relations. Some things never change, no matter the time period or location.

The book is very well written. Despite the setting being extremely `uncool' in its setting (key words: rural, traditional, poor, hard-working...), I never lost interest in learning more about the characters and the dynamics of their relations. The book succeeds very well in describing the remote life on the farm with Moran dominating the other family members' lives. It creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere. As a reader you understand why also Moran's second son runs away. The women - including Rose - react differently: equally irritated at times, but never questioning his authority and remaining loyal. Yet, and this is the major strength of the book, I developed a growing sympathy for Moran. It's not easy to be a father and a husband, especially if your EQ isn't too high. ;-)

Definitely not a feel-good story but one that made me understand more about human nature and with a surprising sad but nevertheless upbeat ending. An ode to family.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paved with Good Intentions, 22 Aug. 2012
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
Aloof and uncompromising, Moran is disappointed with the independent Ireland for which he has fought, and vents his frustration in an ongoing battle to dominate his children, compliant second wife Rose and even his old friend McQuaid who shares his memories of the past. Perhaps Moran only felt alive in his days as a guerrilla leader, perhaps he was traumatised by some of the brutality in which he was caught up.

Although this is one of those tales in which not much happens, I was soon hooked by McGahern's spare prose and subtle ability to convey a sense of place and of human relationships as he describes in minute detail the nuances of family relationships in the rural Ireland of around 1960. On the one hand, I was repelled by the narrow restrictions, the over-concern with convention and religious rituals. On the other, McGahern makes us aware of the value of family ties, working together on the land, taking pleasure in the small simple things of life, enjoying the familiarity and beauty of the farmland. All this is made more poignant by our knowledge of the transience of this way of life, as inevitably the children leave to make a better living in Dublin or London - or to escape the tyranny of a man whom most of them regards as "always.... the very living centre of all parts of their lives".

Moran's bullying, sarcasm and desire to stand on his dignity and have the last word do not endear him to me. Much of the quiet tragedy of this book is the high price he pays for his behaviour in terms of the loss of his old friend McQuaid, even his eldest son. It is quite hard at times to understand how his stoical wife Rose manages to turn the other cheek.

Highly recommended, this is a thought-provoking and moving read which enhances our understanding of ordinary life, with a wry humour to counter what may sound like the downbeat misery of the theme.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime Craft, 1 Mar. 2002
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
This book is a study of the faults and consolations of humanity: its irrational impulses and self-deceits, its capacity for forgiveness, and also its willingness sometimes not to forgive. Above all it is about the precious human ability to love and be loved. Indeed it shows how the lives of people are shaped by how they love and choose to be loved.
It also shows how choosing not to love - the bitterness that can come from the slights, betrayals and humiliations that make up the retinue of human existence - is not a natural state, and that the grace to overcome it is always available.
The deep satisfactions of this book derive from the exquisite skill of the author. His voice is gentle, yet his eye is merciless. He has deep understanding of the forces that bind men and women, and keep them apart. The most powerful after-effect of reading it, is to feel his own love, or at least his compassion, although it is never explicit. It is conveyed as if across a space. The distance is necessary so we don't lose focus, so the clarity of the picture does not blur. What we see - eventually, in the authors good time - is how we must be part of this story too.
It is a short book, but no work of fiction published since it was published twelve years ago carries more weight.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quietly compelling read, 9 Jan. 2010
By 
Michael Marett-crosby (Jersey, Channel Islands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
This profound and gentle book belies its topic, which is survival after war and the inheritance bequeathed by a survivor to his children. I bought it because the Amazon reviews made it sound interesting, and it is! What could have been raucous and full of cliche has a quietness deriving from the fact that the real action has already happened. Moran is made by fighting. The doubt is what his being made will make of his new wife, daughters and sons. Containing them all are the house, the landscape, the daily Rosary and above all Moran's brittle, unyielding law that within the family all are one. Ultimately he is only one of them as well. It is a story of decay and escape, of an Ireland that might not have been worth fighting for, and it is quietly compelling throughout. I have never regretted less an impulse purchase and can't recommend it highly enough. When I read it again, it will be with Edna O'Brien's House of Splendid Isolation - they'd work well together.The House Of Splendid Isolation
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irish Novels, 9 Mar. 2010
By 
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
An excellent novel detailing the minutiae of life in a small Irish community around the 1960s. Deals with themes of family life, women's issues, religion, politics and rural life. The style is deceptively spare, but it's a compulsive page-turner. This novel worked very well with A level students as a coursework text, when used in conjunction with plays by Brian Friel and poems by Yeats.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Told, 23 April 2014
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
In this short novel we have no chapters, and no plot as such as the story is told by the use of episodes, or ‘flashbacks’. This is however finely crafted, easy to read and full of incident.

Set in Ireland Michael Moran is the head of the family, or Daddy as the family members call him. Here we see that Moran father of five children, two boys and three girls and a widower remarries, to Rose. Moran fought against the British to help form the new Irish Republic, but since then he seems to have fallen into anonymity. As a soldier he may have been good, but with no war to fight, and no place for him in the new government he quietly lives out on his farm with his family. Surly, patronising, violent tempered and attention seeking Moran really hasn’t got anything going for him. Feared by his family but also loved by them this is definitely a story of previous generations, not just in Ireland but here as well, and indeed in America, striking a chord with a lot of us. For instance my dad would have no idea how to cope if my mum dies before him, when she has been in hospital before the rest of us have had to rally around to help him; he considers himself the undisputed head of the family and I know hates the fact that we are all better educated than him. You can see that sort of resentment in this story with Moran, he approves that his children do well, but can’t help making snide remarks about it.

This is a story of family, also an allegory of Ireland after becoming an independent country by throwing off the yoke of British Rule. But it is also more than that; it is a story of being a man, and what that means. I grew up as many others with the same old sayings with regards to men don’t cry, keep a stiff upper lip, don’t show emotions, and always stay in control. The list goes on, but none of these things actually make you a man, and can lead to dysfunction. As well as just being about a family and its patriarch though this shows how the women cope with what goes on, making this a book that can be read and understood by both sexes.

This is our local book group read and hopefully we will get some good discussions out of this book, and so it may be one for other book groups to consider reading. In all this is a story told quite concisely and sparingly but within its pages lays a tale that is still relevant, and should make you think long after you have finished reading it.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your ordinary, violent Da., 15 Sept. 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
Set in rural Ireland, this uncompromising family drama revolves around Michael Moran, the father of five. A member of the IRA during the time of The Troubles, years ago, Michael has apparently repressed violent traumas which, we are led to believe, are responsible for his withdrawal from society and his current violence against his family--it is not the result of drink or the frustrations of poverty. Now the father of teenage children, he is disillusioned by what he sees as the fruits of this war, remarking, "Look at the country now. Run by a crowd of small-minded gangsters out for their own good."
Within his own household, Michael upholds all the values he fought for years ago. He's a hard, independent man, beholden to no one, and his word is law. To his family, however, he is often a tyrant--obstinate, cruel, full of hatred, quick to anger, and reluctant to apologize-and his second wife Rose, his three daughters, and his two sons are "inordinately grateful for the slightest good will." Outwardly religious, Michael daily recites the Rosary, looking for religious help for his inner turmoil and the complications of his daily life. As he says, "the war was the best part of our lives. Things were never so simple and clear again."
With a main character who is never endearing, McGahern challenges the reader to empathize with Michael and understand why the women in his family remain tied to him emotionally, even after they have successfully escaped his domination and established independent lives away from the farm. Gradually, the reader begins to understand the overpowering need to form connections with the past, even when it is not pleasant--to forgive one's parents for their limitations while remaining strong and faithful to oneself. In clear, straightforward prose of immense power, McGahern piles mundane detail upon detail, creating a sensitive family story of great universality, one which will give the reader much to ponder. Mary Whipple
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet book with deep impact, 24 July 2010
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
This novel works on you slowly. It opens with a brief summary of the present time on the farm with the family relations sketched in. From then it draws you deeply into their history. Each character's relationship to all the other family members is illuminated and detailed, little by little. Telling detail, subtle writing and a deep understanding of time and place (Ireland in the 50's and 60's) make this a book to read slowly and to savour. By the end, you have a deeply satisfying understanding of the power of family ties, for good and ill. The father, though in many ways a monster, is shown as a failed and unhappy man who suffers guilt. Yet, as a product of his time he is a victim too. The quality of the writing, the author's deep knowledge of human nature and the simple beauty of the writing, make this a 'great' book in the real sense of the word.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fictional Memoir Based Loosely on the Author's Own Life, 6 April 2011
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
John McGahern's "Amongst Women" begins slowly, but after a certain point, I really became caught up in it. The book is very well-written; it's lyrical and much of what's going on happens below the surface.

"Amongst Women" reads like an unflinching memoir. And in many ways, it is. The main character, Michael Moran, is for all intents and purposes McGahern's father, an ex-Republican, separated from the rest of the community, and known for being harsh to his children. And McGahern is essentially Luke. (Though, unlike that gentleman, McGahern did come home from time-to-time on short visits and did wind up moving back to Ireland as he got older.) Quite a bit seems to have been drawn from the author's real life.

However, at times, it's hard to feel sympathy for Moran. Yes, he has PTSD, but the way he treats his children drives them away, especially keeping Sheila from going to university. That action and both of the times he snaps at Rose really makes Moran hard to like. Also, not much happens. It's lyrical and floats along, but there's very little plot.
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3.0 out of 5 stars "She seemed willing to go to almost any length to appease, lull his irritation to rest...", 10 Jun. 2014
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
This is a story that makes it’s mark on the reader, whether one wants it to or not. Their mother died early, leaving three girls and two boys. The children have learned since her death to accommodate their father. Everything has to be done for him in the house, and the girls have learned well. He keeps a herd of cows and is meticulous with his animals, as he is in reckoning his money. The atmosphere of the house has soured since his eldest boy has left to work in England and he frets over this desertion from the fold and imputes bad motives to it. His female children are little housewives, until he meets with Rose and marries her, after an indifferent and somewhat uncertain courtship. But Rose is staunch, in her way, and has the womanly touch that softens his heart towards her. The man Michael, not to be confused with the youngest boy, also called Michael, is tense and always ready to find fault. They say the rosary each night and he is strict with the wording. One by one they leave the nest, all except Mona, the beautiful one. Maggie the eldest girl gets a civil service job, Sheila becomes a nurse, but although they may leave to live near to their work, they stay in touch. Mona does leave to work in the city eventually, but she is the most meticulous when it comes to the weekend visits.

The gloom of the family situation rarely lifts and this is a story of a man who has kept himself apart from his community. He has few friends and does not drink, even when they all come back for a Christmas get-together. There are moments of lightness, but the majority of their time in the house seems to hover always with the thought of impending disaster, of someone, or something disturbing the old man’s mood. This might be as small as a cup breaking in the washing-up. The old man’s sourness appears to be endemic.

The atmosphere in the house worsens when Michael, the son, wants to leave school before he has matriculated, to work as a labourer, like his elder brother did. The father refuses to let him leave, but when he threatens to beat young Michael, the boy runs off to the house of one of his sisters. Luke, is now studying accountancy and is making a life in England. But even when Luke comes back to Ireland to attend the wedding of one of his sisters, there is no real reconciliation and gradually, the house empties and the old man falters. The book ends with his death.

It is very difficult to find much of a positive nature to say about this book. I daresay it is true to life – but such a deadened and bitter life as it draws to a close like a harsh, cold winter day. Some men, of course, have no talent for fatherhood, I knew someone like this myself, and indeed he was a man with a mission to dominate his family at all costs. This is an extremely depressing book.
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Amongst Women
Amongst Women by John McGahern (Paperback - 5 Jun. 2008)
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