Category Archives: McGahern

Excerpts from The Pornographer

Some highlights from The Pornographer, the second-best book I read in 2009, by Irish writer  John McGahern.

John McGahern

If you haven’t read this, you should put down whatever else you’ve got to hand and get to it.  Myself, I plan on reading up on the man’s oeuvre at first  chance.

The womb and the grave … The christening party becomes the funeral, the shudder that makes us flesh becomes the shudder that makes us meat.  They say that it is the religious instinct that makes us seek the relationships and laws in things.  And in between there is time and work, as passing time, and killing time, and lessening time that’d lessen anyhow, such as this going to the dance.


For long I had limped by without energy, accepting what I’d been given, taking what I could get — deprived of any idea outside the immediate need of the day.  Once the sensual beat had carried me on, careless of reason.  Now I wanted to pause and turn and pause and stare and pause and idiotically smile.


I had now visited my aunt so often and so regularly in the hospital that the visits had come to resemble those she was so well used to among relatives on Sundays in the country.  Cars pull up outside.  Apologies and cautious smiles ease themselves out of front seats.  A child slams a back door. Having first discerned who has landed from the cover of the back of the living-room, smiles of surprise and delight are wreathed into shape ont he doorstep of the porch.  Little runs and thrills and pats and chortles go to answer on another, till all hesitant discordant notes are lost in the sweet medley of hypocrisy.  Tea is made.  After tea, with folded arms, outside on a good day, the men discuss their present plans for rebuilding Troy with suitably measured gestures.  The visit ends as it began, relief breaking through the trills of thanks and promises and small playful scolds, “And now, be sure and don’t let it be as long until  you come again.  We’ll think bad of you.  Now it’s your turn to visit us next time, you’ve been just promising for far too long.”  And then each family settles down to a solid hour of criticism of the other, the boring visit ended.


“It’s all right.  We can go ahead,” the undertaker said.  He drew back the sheet.  Silently we took hold of her and lifted her from the bed.  Her lightness amazed me, like a starved bird.  The undertaker arranged her head on the small pillow, and looked at us in turn, and when we nodded he put the lid in place, turning the silver screws that were in the shapes of crosses.  There was a brown stain in the centre of the snow-white undersheet where she had lain.

The superstitious, the poetic, the religious are all made safe within the social, given a tangible form.  The darkness is pushed out.  All things become interrelated.  We learn sequence and precedence, shutting out the larger anxiety of the darkness.  There’s nothing can be done about it.  There’s good form and bad form.  All is outside.


“O you’re some lover, I tell you.  But fortunately I know you.  Blacken day with night.  Tell the nodding plants they’ll grow just as well in shade as sun.  It’s all in the sweet quality of the mind, so forget the fucking circumstances, brother.”

The rain had started, the powerful wiper sweeping it imperiously aside as soon as it spotted the shining arcs, sweeping and sweeping.

“You’ve have seen me if you had been paying attention,” she’d once said to me, the night she came towards me across the floor of the Metropole.  By not attending, by thinking any one thing was as worth doing as any other, by sleeping with anybody who’d agree, I had been the cause of as much pain and confusion and evil as if I had actively set out to do it.  I had not attended properly.  I had found the energy to choose too painful.  Broken in love, I had turned back, let the light of imagination almost out.  Now my hands were ice.

We had to leave the road of reason because we needed to go farther.  Not to have a reason is a greater reason still to follow the instinct for the true, to follow it with all the force we have, in all the seeing and final blindness.