*Amongst Women*

That is the title of a 1990 Irish novel by John McGahern, well-known in Ireland but as of late not so frequently read outside of Ireland.  In addition to its excellent general quality, I found this book notable for two reasons.  First, it focuses on the feminization of Ireland, being set in the mid-century decades after independence.  An IRA veteran slowly realizes that the Ireland he fought for — a place for manly men — was a figment of his civil war imagination, and not an actual option for an independent, modernizing Ireland.  The latter will be run according to the standards and desires of women, and actually be far more pleasant, whether or not Moran likes it.  Second, the book is an excellent illustration of the importance of context for reading fiction.  The story reads quite differently, depending how quickly you realize the protagonist is an IRA veteran with his wartime service as a fundamental experience.  Few readers will know this from the very beginning, but I suspect many Irish readers — especially older ones — will figure this out well before they are told.  In general, the very best fiction is context-rich, and this is one reason why many people may not appreciate all of the literary classics.


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