Saturday, April 01, 2006

"The Precious Life"

John McGahern was considered Ireland's preeminent novelist, and his work was frequently as shadowed and moody as his native land is said to be. Still, light was his true topic--the light that unexpectedly slashes through the clouds, mercilessly revealing everything we attempt to hide. Somehow he made even the harshest exposure beautiful.

His final work, a memoir entitled All Will Be Well, focused on the pivotal event of his life, the death of his mother from cancer when he was ten. In the memoir, he conveys how the experience of being deeply and well loved, however briefly, remains with a person for life, providing a hidden ballast, a private refuge that nothing can destroy.

On March 30th, McGahern, too, succumbed to the disease that had taken his mother 61 years earlier. He leaves behind a unique and luminous body of work. The slender novel, Amongst Women, is considered by many to be his masterpiece, though I'm particularly grateful for his short fiction.

He also left behind some irresistible quotes, including this one from The Guardian:

"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."

But it is this bit from the obit in the New York Times, which I've been carrying around in my pocket to read aloud to anyone willing to listen:

"Acknowledging that many readers found his work pessimistic, if not depressing, he offered this: 'My favorite optimist,' he said, 'was an American who jumped off the Empire State Building, and as he passed the 42nd floor, the window washers heard him say, 'So far, so good.'"

It's a great joke, but on bad days, it also seems like an apt description of the way a lot of serious global problems are being addressed: Don't look down!

17 comments:

Sky said...

I didn't know him, so thanks for the introduction. Sounds like he had a sense of humor, even toward himself. :)

rdl said...

Wow another one for the list.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rexroth's Daughter said...

I'm glad you included that quote at the end. What an interesting fellow. I haven't ever read him, but plan to. I like his observation about being deeply and well loved. Of course the tragedy is that the opposite is true as well, and there are a lot of people walking around with no inherent ballast, and no private refuge.

colleen said...

Thanks for this...my favorite combinations...Irish...memoir...and a little twistedness.

P. A. Moed said...

I love that quote about jumping from the Empire State. A headlong dash into the void. I just saw a documentary on the downfall of Enron. Sounds like K. Lay's corporate policy as the ship was going down.

Jean said...

I've had a busy few days, heard little news, hadn't heard this, and am very sad to hear it. I only discovered this quietly wonderful writer, almost perfect to my taste, a couple of years ago - he seems to be a bit less read in England than many Irish writers. My favourite to date is his novel 'That They May Face the Rising Sun', but I haven't read by any means all his work. Sad that his death should be the reason for remembering I meant to do so.

Simply Coll said...

I so enjoyed the quotes.. both of them.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I love his novel "By the Lake," which I believe has a different title in its Irish/UK edition (I think it's "That They May Face The Rising Sun," which Jean mentions above). It's a quiet study of a few aging Irish couples and singles who all live on the same small lake and have known each other forever. Almost nothing happens and a lot is perceived -- which is my ideal of a good novel.

Grace said...

this:
" I've been carrying around in my pocket to read aloud to anyone willing to listen"

inspired me to read more of your blog- truly enjoying it.


stop by sometime
http://metahara.livejournal.com/

Cate said...

I didn't know him, either, but I love this beautiful tribute to the man and his work. Cancer is an awful monster.

And the quotes that you shared were wonderful. I esp. liked #2! Thank you!

Mary said...

You've made me want to read him, Patry. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very nice! I found a place where you can
make some nice extra cash secret shopping. Just go to the site below
and put in your zip to see what's available in your area.
I made over $900 last month having fun!
make extra money

Anonymous said...

Very nice! I found a place where you can
make some nice extra cash secret shopping. Just go to the site below
and put in your zip to see what's available in your area.
I made over $900 last month having fun!
make extra money

g_pi said...

"...how the experience of being deeply and well loved, however briefly, remains with a person for life, providing a hidden ballast, a private refuge that nothing can destroy."

I was particularly struck by these lines. You have it so perfectly.

And you have spurred me too, to seek out this writer. Thank you for the tip!

g_pi said...

"...how the experience of being deeply and well loved, however briefly, remains with a person for life, providing a hidden ballast, a private refuge that nothing can destroy."

I was particularly struck by these lines. You have it so perfectly.

And you have spurred me too, to seek out this writer. Thank you for the tip!

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

徵信,徵信,徵信,徵信,徵信,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,徵信社,