John McGahern - Creatures of the Earth (4 stars)

John McGahern

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Creatures of the Earth (Faber)

SHORT STORIES

In his best-known novel, 1990’s Booker shortlisted Amongst Women, John McGahern’s protagonist Michael Moran reflects: ‘The best of life is life lived quietly, where nothing happens but our calm journey through the day, where change is imperceptible and the precious life is everything.’ This epitaph could just as easily have referred to the characters that populate his four volumes of sparse, penetrating short stories, collected for the first time in 1992 and re-issued here in light of the Irish writer’s death from cancer earlier this year.

Again and again, McGahern’s wry authorial voice mulls over the constricting values of Irish society, from the role of the church to patriarchal politics. Yet, it’s the author’s quiet, acute sympathy for his characters which makes this collection so rewarding. From the man who confronts his father with his new wife to the teacher looking back with regret on a life spent in a sleepy backwater, McGahern brings their dilemmas to life with incisive wit.

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