That They May Face the Rising Sun
by John McGahern
THAT THEY MAY FACE THE RISING SUN is John McGahern's Last Will and Testament.
His gift is in the serenity and wildness of a lake. His telling of its moods, its banks and hedges, and the people who live there make of the book a testament of love.
Joe and Kate Ruttledge return to Eire from successful London jobs in advertising to a small farm by the
lake. With mockery and delight and great skill McGahern chronicles their seasons through lambing, haymaking, marketing and visits to the pub. At
Christmas, Easter and the funeral we enjoy the company of family, friends and Father Conroy; we hear the
heavy wellingtons and the blackthorn of the orphan boy of sixty.
The meaning of the title of the novel is in the cemetery and the rose window of the ruined abbey at Shruhaun. "And who can tell, when all is said and done, and who can tell the man who wore the ragged jacket."
The character of the Ruttledges' best neighbour, Jamsie Murphy, can best be appreciated through McGahern's own words: "An intense vividness and sweetness of nature showed in every quick, expressive movement." For him (as it was for Joe and Kate), "all forms of social intercourse were merely different kinds of play". According to his wife, Mary, Jamsie
would disgrace a holy saint.
We are vaguely aware of the tragedy of Irish history, of the underlying restlessness and threat, and the ironies of religion. Using as metaphors a pretty black lamb (accidentally trampled during the medicinal drenching of the flock) and the old heron which deserts the lake at the arrival of the telegraph poles, McGahern fears the silent loss of the ancient spirit of Ireland, the grace of which, a thousand years ago, enlightened the civilized world. Will the European Union, like the clumsy shepherd and the marching telegraph, extinguish even more than the brutality of the Norman, Scots and English invasions?
THAT THEY MAY FACE THE RISING SUN celebrates the beauty of the lake, the kindness of good neighbours, the freshness of original and surprising conversation and the delicacy and toughness of the human spirit.
It is John McGahern's last book. He died a few weeks ago: Ireland's grievous loss is ours, too.
Faber & Faber Books are giving a copy of THAT THEY MAY FACE THE RISING SUN to the first ten visitors (from registered groups) who email us. Please tell us the name and town of your group and put Faber in the subject box of your email.