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The Dark

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  778 ratings  ·  72 reviews
The Dark, widely acclaimed, yet infamously banned, is John McGaherns sensitive, perceptive, and beautifully written portrayal of a young mans coming-of-age in rural Ireland. Imaginative and introverted, the boy is successful in school, but bitterly confused by the guilt-inducing questions he endures from the priests who should be his venerated guides. His relationship with ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 26th 2002 by Penguin Books (first published 1965)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  778 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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James Barker
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5s, ire, somehow-reviewed
Bristling with the threat of violence from the outset, the opening chapter is one of the most disturbing and claustrophobic I have read. The father in the book is a bitter man, his moods uneven and extreme, and as a consequence his children live in fear of him and punish him the only way they can- by shutting him out of their lives as much as possible. His feeling of isolation is something that compounds the misery within the farmhouse walls; it begets isolation in each of his kids, although the ...more
Conor Mcvarnock
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I began reading The Dark for banned book week as it had been banned in Ireland and it is easy to see why the book made them uneasy. It is a bleak window into the world of the Irish adolescent male in the middle of the century in rural Ireland, its a story about a young man who in spite of the many things he has going for him, ends up crushed under the wheel of the society that bore him. It deals frankly with many controversial subjects, adolescent sexuality, parental abuse (it contains possibly ...more
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably the most intense and sad book I ever read.
From the very first page you are drawn into a really nasty
and uncomfortable scene which really sets the mood in a very
hard and upsetting way.
At this point you realise the title of the book is just perfect.

This book is not an easy book to read as it mostly tells of
the relationship between a tough,hard and abusive father and
his adolescent son.
But it is absolutely brilliant!!!!!
I have never read anything so powerful that left you with a
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I recently discovered the 20th century Irish writer John McGahern and was so stunned by the beauty of his writing that I sometimes stopped and read things over and over. Even today the book is shocking with its brutality and incest, but the journey of the boy and his wretched relationship with his insensitive father makes it remarkable. If I could, I would give it four and a half stars only because I disliked the ending; I wanted the boy to go another way. But that is what I wanted for him, not ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd never heard of McGahern, or this book, until it was favorably mentioned in my favorite book of the year (so far), John Boyne's brilliant 'The Heart's Invisible Furies' - and the fact it had been banned seemed immediately intriguing (presumably for a few iterations of the F-word, and the suggestion of father/son sexual abuse). In truth, the book is a fairly straightforward account of a young boy's maturing into young adulthood amongst the typical constraints of a rural Irish Catholic ...more
Paul Clayton
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I finished the acclaimed Irish novel, The Dark, by John McGahern, while on a vacation to Waikiki, Hawaii. And, yes, tis (dark). The book begins with an enraged father forcing his young son to strip, then bend over a chair to await the sting of the belt, while his younger siblings watch in terror. It goes on a few chapters later to show the boy and father in bed together. Family members sharing a bed was not uncommon in the early part of the last century (nor is it today in ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-ireland
John McGahern is one of those wonderful writers who while somewhat appreciated in their time, (his excellent novel Against Women was shortlisted for the Booker Prize) never achieved the fame they deserved.
The Dark is my second McGahern novel after Amongst Women and as the title aptly puts it, is very dark indeed. Much like in Against Women, one of the focal points of the novel is an overbearing, tyrannical, and abusive father, raising children on his own. In Against Women the father figure
Disha Bose O'Shea
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
I was introduced to this book when we read its first page at a workshop, and it had me hooked. From the first words, McGahern was able to mirror the dark, claustrophobic and oppressed world of 1960s rural Ireland.

The story begins with a father forcing his son to strip for allegedly cursing, bend over a chair and await thrashing, while his siblings watch in terror. Its a coming-of-age novel, a bildungsroman in its traditional sense but unlike one that you might have read before. The book was
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rkn-100, 2018
Its reputation overwhelmed by the Irish Church's initially successful campaign to have it banned, this second novel by John McGahern is a characteristically superb look at the various fault lines in Irish society acting on the choices of a talented young student from a poor family. The reason they banned it (when they could still do such things) was not just its spine-chilling scene of the father, Mahoney's, sexual abuse of his own son, but the clear-eyed way in which McGahern breaks down the ...more
A. Mary
Feb 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: irish-novels
In this novel, McGahern shows a motherless family ruled by a violent narcissist. There is no counter to his demands, and the children are almost completely cowed. Mahoney's relationship with his son is disturbing, and the boy's development is a terrible slog. He studies to the exclusion of all else except his ordinary adolescent lusts, and is torn between his desire for a sensual life and his possible vocation in the priesthood. Everything is done with the goal of ending his dependence on his ...more
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. A coming of age story about a young man with six siblings, growing up on a small farm in country Ireland. His widower father is quite a brutal, harsh, hard working man who loses his temper frequently. The children live in fear of the sudden eruption of their father's temper. The writing style is plain, concise and well constructed. This is my fourth McGahern novel and whilst my favourite is Amongst Women, this, his second novel, is quite a powerful, realistic novel that reads like a ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: other, 4-stars
It's not a reading experience for everybody, but if you attempt it, it is eminently worthwhile and utterly unforgettable. This was quick, and riveting, and hard, and beautiful. Story of a boy becoming a man, as the oldest in a family held together by an angry and hurting widowed father. Who loves. But in a way that seems so backwards and thwarted to me. Very spare, and well told. With grace and sadness throughout.
Maureen Grigsby
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A short novel that evokes Ireland in the early 1960s, when the Catholic Church still had a stranglehold on the islands inhabitants, and a young boy just wants to find a piece of happiness in his world. Makes me want to read lots more of this author. ...more
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Disturbing and extremely claustrophobic this isn't a comfortable read but it's brilliantly written with a shifting narrative structure that feels completely uncontrived.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Poetic and Sad and Beautiful - an Irish sensibility
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a seriously dark book, no pun intended.

The book was originally published in 1965 and was banned in Ireland. Then again the most tame and innocuous books like Walter Mackens were banned there because of the enormous, pernicious power of the Catholic Chirch.

It is the story of a clever young man, who is repressed by both the society he lives in ( ruled by an iron fist by a country where church and Caesar operated hand in glove) and by his sadistic, authoritarian widowed Dad. They live in
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting it to be darker. I wouldnt go so far as to say I enjoyed this book but I think some of the characters and scenes will stay with me. It felt very real. Poor rural Ireland in the 1950s. ...more
Crothuir 2019
Horrendous account of abuse and of repressed sexuality. Hard to put down but not an easy read at all.
Robert Beveridge
Jan 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
John McGahern, The Dark (Panther, 1965)

John McGahern would seem to be another of those authors whose talent is lionized in his native land, but who never quite had Americans get the hang of his work (q.v. Margaret Laurence). The Dark, McGahern's second novel, is a fascinating portrait of adolescence that deserves far, far wider appreciation than it seems to have ever received.

McGahern's homeland of Ireland may have something to do with that. The Dark was banned not long after its release for its
Danny Daley
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Dark is one of the most emotionally complex and deeply affecting novels I've ever read. In a very short but economical space McGahern masterfully handles the themes of religion, sexuality, education, and most importantly, the relationship between a father and son. None of these themes is treated with anything but the greatest care and sophistication, none of them handled simply or in a one sided manner, all of them rung through with nuance and extreme detail. As the protagonist, the young ...more
Richard Needham
Aug 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a coming-of-age story, starting out with a monster of a widowed father disciplining his son (a chilling first chapter), and ending with some reconciliation. Getting from the beginning to the end is fairly short in number of pages but long in torturous developments centered around the father, the protagonists sexual arousal (directed mostly inward), confession and contrition, followed by more sin, and competition for a scholarship to Galway University. It is wonderfully written and very ...more
Konstantin R.
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: serious, j-adore, b-b-y
[rating = A+]
One of my: Best Books of the Year (for 2014)
A boy struggles through life, as most do; but through an angry, abusive father and his own wayward journey along the precipitous ledge of adolescent. Taking care of his sister, deciding on being a priest or not, many turns and many consequences. A very sad little novel where father and son grow together. At one point the son exclaims that he, the father, is older and unable to do the work he used to, which shocks the poor son. Through the
Nov 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
The least of McGahern's novels and the shortest.

McGahern felt embarrassed by it ('written too quickly'), and was amused rather than outraged when the Irish Censor Board banned it. Less amusing was the Church's response which promptly forced McGahern out of his job. When McGahern protested, officials were unsympathetic. The book alone might have been forgiven, but after marrying a woman in a registry office; worse, a foreign woman...

The novel is interesting on a purely technical level. It's
Simon Bendle
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those of us who love Ireland, John McGaherns second novel is not always an easy read. The Ireland he writes about old Ireland can be an ignorant and violent place, a rural backwater where sex is a dark and sinful thing. But do not be put off. This book is outstanding; a beautiful and powerful story of a country boys struggle to grow out of the darkness of his childhood and into the light of happy adulthood. The Dark was banned in Ireland in the Sixties. Now McGahern is considered one of ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ireland
Aptly named, this novel was an intense look at the relationship between a father and son, and all the hatred and love that can coexist in our familial relationships. I find it almost unbearably poignant and sad in parts, but a beautiful book. Stylistically, it was interesting as well. The book shifted between first person, second person and third person perspective, and that sounds like it would be a nightmare to wade through, but in fact, McGahern managed to pull it off and use the shifts most ...more
Ilse Wouters
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: in-english
This is the story of a young man growing up in a family without a mother where the father, not always (or rather very rarely) the kindest person for his children, struggles to get all the work done in his house on the Irish countryside. The young man is a brilliant student, but how to make it acceptable for his father to let him study? What to study for? Should he become a priest? The book describes the worries of the young man and the life of him and his family, and does that really well : one ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
My dad (retired professor of English...) gave me this to read, along with Among Women, another McGahern novel that I am going to begin reading immediately. This was quick, and riveting, and hard, and beautiful. Story of a boy becoming a man, as the oldest in a family held together by an angry and hurting widowed father. Who loves. But in a way that seems so backwards and thwarted to me; because it isn't what I know. I count myself lucky, for that. Very spare, and well told. With grace and ...more
Paul Taylor
Nov 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When starting this I thought the title of the book actually represented the book, that was so and too easy to do. But persist. Its not so dark, in fact hope and light unravel. What it really is, is deep and packed full of feeling.. A brave, course and in your face depiction of a life and time, hopefully now gone. This is my first McGahern and I will read more, it's wonderfully written. Don't be put off by the sombre and uncomfortable opening, go for it, is this an 'enjoyable' read? No way! It is ...more
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 20th-century
I found this a terrific evocation not just of a time and place and class in Ireland, but also of adolescence, its guilt, discoveries, ridiculously unbearable pressures. And of the complications of a relationship with an abusive father, and yet one who is frail and put upon himself. It was gripping; I basically read it in one sitting. I think I'll have to read it again; it was very interesting to me how the narrative shifted from third to second to first person and back again. I'd like to try to ...more
Richard McDonough
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book which I reviewed and received a cheque for from a newspaper. McGahern was a schoolteacher in priest ridden Ireland of the past and The Dark is indeed a dark tale with drink and incest and the unforgiveness of society and environment. he got sacked from his teaching position as a result of publishing this book and went on to fame and brilliant work till his death. I read it a million years ago and do not have sufficient recall to say more except that it is a powerful read ...more
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McGahern began his career as a schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste (Belgrove) primary school in Clontarf, Ireland, where, for a period, he taught the eminent academic Declan Kiberd before turning to writing full-time. McGahern's second novel 'The Dark' was banned in Ireland for its alleged pornographic content and implied clerical sexual abuse. In the controversy over this he was forced to resign ...more

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