The Letters of John McGahern: Getting to know a private man

Book review: The writer’s letters to other authors, family members and his wife

John McGahern in his house in Foxfield, Leitrim in 1995. Photograph: Georges DUSSAUD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

John McGahern in his house in Foxfield, Leitrim in 1995. Photograph: Georges DUSSAUD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

“I don’t like writing letters,” wrote John McGahern. “So I seldom do.” “It is so easy to be anything except honest” in them, that letter writing must be “the art for the saint or the madman”.

That personal exchanges might carry such freight suggests something of the intensity of McGahern’s art, in which each word leads by necessity to another, his characters and his settings a consequence of the language and not the other way around. This prospect led to occasional exasperation, as when he struggled to write the television script of The Pornographer: “I swear I’ll never put couples into bed again. It’s so hard to get them out.”

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