Love of the World
Essays – by John McGahern
Faber and Faber – £20.00
‘’Happiness is its own completion,’’ writes John McGahern in his essay ‘Dreaming at Julien’s’ – a statement from which one can garner any number of interpretations. On the one hand, yes, happiness is its own completion, but when does one know when said completion has actually taken place?
Surely each and every one of us has the ability to pronounce when happiness reigns supreme – even if only in hindsight. We also have the ability, even if only subliminally, to be alerted to the fact that happiness has departed; if indeed, it were (ever) there in the first place. So yes, happiness does have its own completion. It also has its own get out clause – over which the majority of us have no sanctified, social jurisdiction.
Like the films of Brad Pitt, the writings of John McGahern reveal themselves at their own pace; a pace many might consider as being far too slow, for dare I say it, their own completion. Just like the film Seven (which I have yet to watch in its entirety), many of the essays throughout Love of the World have a far-reaching, not to mention, mighty tremulous trajectory.
‘Rural Ireland’s Passing,’ ‘The Church and Its Spire’ and ‘The Solitary Reader’ are all equally moody’n’broody’n’peppered with morality. They’re also endemic of a pace, not too far removed from having endured one too many major bouts of contemplation. For instance, in ‘The Solitary Reader,’ McGahern bequeaths his readers with an introspective and surely far too considered occupational hazard: ‘’I will resort to almost any subterfuge to escape the blank page, but there seems to be always some scene or rhythm that lodges in the mind and will not go away until it is written down. Often when it is written it turns out that there was never anything real behind the rhythm or scene, and it disappears in the writing; other times those scenes or rhythms start to grow, and you find yourself once again working everyday, sometimes over a period of several years, to discover and bring to life a world though words as if it were the first and (this is a devout prayer) last time. It is true that there can be intense happiness throughout the work, when all the words seem, magically, to find their true place, and several hours turn into a single moment; but these occurrences are so rare that they are, I suspect, like mirages in the desert fables to encourage and torment the half-deluded traveller.’’
Any writer worth their salt can relate to ‘’several hours’’ turning ‘’into a single moment.’’ It’s a given. But when writing becomes a science, it’s no longer writing; but rather something of an anaesthetized and abridged version thereof.
That said, many of these essays will no doubt trigger oodles of thought and perhaps many hours of contemplation; especially those which confront such contentious issues as sectarianism, women’s rights, social change and the power of the Church in Ireland.