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Amongst Women
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Jen | 1608 comments Mod
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Gail (gailifer) | 1380 comments BOTM Amongst Women

Amongst Women is John McGahern's eight work of fiction, and is likely to become his best-known work. It was a huge best-seller in Ireland, and was nominated for numerous literary prizes and was the recipient of the prestigious Irish Times-Aer Lingus award and short listed for the Booker Prize. All of McGahern's work has received high critical acclaim but with Amongst Women he clearly touched an Irish national nerve. It was his first novel after a 13 year hiatus and it has an apparent simplicity of narrative style but is also reviewed as a complex work in the literary and cultural life of modern Ireland.

About John McGahern:
He was born in November 1934 and lived with his mother and 4 siblings in Country Leitrim until his mother's death in 1945 when they moved to their father's home at the police barracks in Cootehall, County Roscommon. McGahern worked as a teacher. One of his novels The Dark, published in 1965, was widely praised but also offended the Archbishop of Dublin and the state censor who banned the book and revoked his teaching position. McGahern continued to publish quietly. Amongst Women was published in 1990.


Gail (gailifer) | 1380 comments BOTM: Amongst Women

Some thoughts to reflect on before reading the book:

#1 - Have you ever been in Ireland? What do you know about the modern (post independence) Irish culture?

#2 - Do you come from a large or close knit family? What do you think holds your family together? Shared times, shared values, a specific family identity or love....?

#3 - Do you think we can ever establish an identity independent from our family roots? Would that be desirable?

Tomorrow I will post specific questions about the book for after our reading.


Gail (gailifer) | 1380 comments BOTM: Amongst Women

The questions do foreshadow events in the book so if you do not want to be influenced at all before reading do not read further until you are done.

#1 - Why is Rose so eager to marry a man the rest of the town and her own family have suspicions about?

#2 - What do you think is the significance of the nightly ritual of saying the rosary, especially on nights when Moran explodes?

#3 - How and why does Moran manipulate his family?

#4 - What does Luke mean when he says; "I kept my promise: I did not exist today"?

#5 - During the war for Irish Independence Moran was an officer and considered to be intelligent and fierce but after the war he felt displaced. He says: "The war was the best part of our lives"..."things were never so simple and clear again". Do you think that Moran confuses his own identity with that of his whole family? How do you think his being a soldier impacts his actions with his family?

#6 - The daughters appear to gain strength at the end of their father's life. Why has Moran become afraid of his daughters?


message 5: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 1409 comments #1 I have only been to Ireland for one week - with a French friend who had spent a term teaching there and was convinced that her school had educated the children of Nazis during the war. It was an interesting week! The Irish were even more garrulous than I had anticipated. New Zealand has a strong Irish heritage so we are familiar with the culture and the cadences of speech.
#2 I was an only child, adopted by older parents who died when I was quite young. My adopted mother and her mother lived with us for several years after I married.. I am close to my daughters and granddaughter but less close to my two grandsons. I have never lived in the same country as any of my grandchildren, I would like to ask them this question.
#3 I am in the process of adopting a new identity at the age of 74. I have only recently found out that I am 64% Swedish when I previously knew nothing about the culture except Scandi noir! I also learnt that my father was a U.S.Marine. I am learning about this side of my family for the first time. As I did not know who my mother was until my mid 40's my whole identity has been independent of my family roots. I don't think my adoptive parents had a strong influence on the development of my identity.


Tatjana JP | 293 comments I read Amongst Women today and enjoyed the book as it was slowly going. My rating would be 3 stars.
I loved Rose the best out of all women in the story. She is bold and has a great character. She understands everybody, she is just and finds an excuse for everybody's faults. She manages to keep the family together and calms down Moran the most. I didn't feel she was so eager to marry him just because everybody was reluctant of this marriage. I find her decision being made after she felt Moran was good for her and she stick to that decision irrespective of others. She just confirms she has a strong character and is not afraid of Moran.
Moran is very hard person, he gets upset easy, even without good reason. He wants to have a final word in everything and is hiding behind "best for the family" excuse. Still, he really is not good in relation to his eldest, nor youngest son, best friends and other male characters. I guess that explains a bit the title of the book. While in army he enjoyed a different relationship with others, which he cannot fully integrate into family life. He requires to be everybody's superior, which might explain his religious rituals and relation to his oldest son Luke. He doesn't like his father superiority nor brutal relationship which we know very little about.
Finally, his girls get some courage after leaving home. It was Sheila's attitude that she won't let her children be exposed to Moran, because she wants to keep them being self-confident the best proof of her freedom. It is easier to accept their father once they are not under the same roof and have a choice to leave.


Gail (gailifer) | 1380 comments #1 Although I am descended from Irish immigrants, I have never been to Ireland nor do either of my parents talk much or care much about Ireland. For them, history began when someone in the past got on a boat to cross the Atlantic.
#2. I came from a very large and close family when I was growing up. I knew all my cousins, aunts and uncles and saw my grandparents, on both sides regularly. We vacationed together often. I was taught over and over and without a doubt that family comes first. Now that my family is far flung and stretched thin I am not sure what keeps us together but we do manage to connect frequently.
#3. I would suspect that most of the people I work with think of me as someone without a family identity. I don’t talk about my family often. However, my sense of self is definitely planted firmly in my family foundations. This book made me really consider what it is about family that keeps people tied together.


message 8: by Gail (last edited Aug 08, 2018 09:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1380 comments Pip wrote: "#1 I have only been to Ireland for one week - with a French friend who had spent a term teaching there and was convinced that her school had educated the children of Nazis during the war. It was an..."
Pip, how wonderful to be able to gain a new identity and be in a place in your mind that you can embrace it. I suspect it is a bit confusing but also exciting. I find as I get older that the world has a strange way of showing me that many of my core assumptions, which I would have firmly called facts, are so very wrong. The tilt can be upsetting but also it can be exhilarating as new viewpoints open up. I will now think of you reading those austere and extreme Swedish mysteries (if you should ever read those Swedish mysteries) from a different viewpoint.


message 9: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 1409 comments #1 I pondered the question of Rose's motivation while reading the book. I seem to remember that she was surprised to find him as difficult as he was. I think Rose wanted to return home and to be part of a family of her own, instead of working for someone else's family.
#2 The ritusls of catholicism were deeply engrained in Moran's life. Despite not living a forgiving life personally, he did aspire to being a loving father, although he found it easier with his daughters than with his sons.
#3 Moran is caught up in being the Head of the Family and he believes that this means that his way of looking at things is the only right way. He has poor control of his emotions, possibly because of his army experiences, so he lashes out at zny perceived breach of his authority and the family are fearful of his outbursts. Luke had been thrashed, which was why he left. Moran justified his actions to himself and refused to learn from his mistakes. He would have thradhed Michael, too, if Michael had let him.
#4 By saying that he did not exist at the wedding, Luke meant that he had avoided having a confrontation with his father.
#5 Moran had learnt to ve tough as a soldier. He knew exactly what his duty was, which was to destroy the English. He thought that being tough was how he had to act with his family, but what was right and what wasvwrong was not so clearcut when dealing with his children.
#6 Moran's idea of himself involved being a strong man and as he became older his identity crumbled. As his daughters moved away at the same time as he began to decline, his influence over them lessened.


message 10: by Book (new) - rated it 3 stars

Book Wormy | 1984 comments Mod
#1 - Despite living in England and having some Irish heritage I have never actually visited Ireland. I don't really know much about the culture either except that they are viewed as much more religious and strict than the English.

#2 - When I was younger the family was more close knit now I live with my husband about 1.5 hours away from the rest of the family. I am in regular contact with my immediate family but drifted apart from cousins as we got older. We still meet at family events like weddings and funerals.

#3 - I would say that while my family did influence my growing up my identity is my own.


message 11: by Book (new) - rated it 3 stars

Book Wormy | 1984 comments Mod
#1 - I think she actually feel in love with Moran and what she saw of him in public made her think the rumours about the family were untrue. I think reality was a bit of a shock but she was determined to stick it out and improve life for the whole family.

#2 - Religion is an important part of family life, it brings the family together and gives each of them a specific role. On nights he has exploded it is his way of keeping everything the same and I think slightly his way of asking for forgiveness.

#3 - Moran manipulates his family because he likes to be in charge and he does it using his explosive temper and good humour the family are kept on their toes trying to predict his moods and doing everything they can to keep him happy.

#4 - He didn't cause a scene at the wedding.

#5 -I think Moran was a strict Irish father who considered he was the head of the family I am not sure that the war had any real bearing on this as I think he would have been the same anyway. Anything his children do reflects on him so he tries to control them.

#6 - Because they are independent they have left home, made their own mistakes, learnt their own lessons and had families of their own. Growing up means they are no longer under his power they now have the ability to walk away.


message 12: by Diane (last edited Aug 15, 2018 07:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane  | 2042 comments #1 - Have you ever been in Ireland? What do you know about the modern (post independence) Irish culture?

I have. In fact, my wedding and honeymoon were in Ireland. Ireland is my favorite vacation destination. I am familiar with their modern culture.

#2 - Do you come from a large or close knit family? What do you think holds your family together? Shared times, shared values, a specific family identity or love....?

I think I come from the world's smallest family. I have very few living relatives. The relatives I was closest to have all passed. I have no siblings, no cousins on my mother's side, and few that I know on my father's side (due to geographical distance).

#3 - Do you think we can ever establish an identity independent from our family roots? Would that be desirable?

Yes and no. I think my identity comprises the aspects of my family roots I chose to embrace, while the rest is fully my own.


Diane  | 2042 comments #1 - Why is Rose so eager to marry a man the rest of the town and her own family have suspicions about?

I think she saw in him something other did not. I also think she was something of an outsider, and marrying him provided a sense of belonging and the opportunity to have a family, albeit a ready-made one. As a middle-aged woman she probably had few prospects.

#2 - What do you think is the significance of the nightly ritual of saying the rosary, especially on nights when Moran explodes?

I think religion is a refuge for Moran. He looks to his faith to help him come to terms with his inner turmoil.

#3 - How and why does Moran manipulate his family?

Moran is very controlling and has a volatile temper. He exerts absolute authority over them and considers them an extension of himself. He imposes his values and view of the world upon them. He is demanding of their attention. I think part of the reason he vents his frustrations on his family is that he is dissatisfied with his own life. Controlling them compensates for his inability to control aspects of his own life and that of the government. Being a tyrant in his own domain makes him feel less powerless in the outside world.

#4 - What does Luke mean when he says; "I kept my promise: I did not exist today"?

He kept a low profile at the wedding and didn't initiate any conflict with his father.

#5 - During the war for Irish Independence Moran was an officer and considered to be intelligent and fierce but after the war he felt displaced. He says: "The war was the best part of our lives"..."things were never so simple and clear again". Do you think that Moran confuses his own identity with that of his whole family? How do you think his being a soldier impacts his actions with his family?

His time as a soldier signified his "glory days". He misses the structure and stringency of military life. He wants to recreate that in his household. He views his family as an extension of himself. In his mind military structure good for him, therefore it should be good for his family, too.

#6 - The daughters appear to gain strength at the end of their father's life. Why has Moran become afraid of his daughters.

He sees his hold on them diminishing. He never felt threatened of his daughters the way he did of his sons and easily dominated them. He sees their strength grow as his physical strength wanes. As they gain autonomy, he loses his control over them.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4106 comments Mod
I read this one way back in 2010. I gave it 5 stars. I really liked it. Here is my review, Amongst Women (1990), Irish Times/Aer Lingus Literary Award (1991), GPA Award (1992), nominated for the Booker Prize (1990).
Moran is the father of three daughters and two children. He is an embittered Irish Republican soldier. Moran marries Rose, his second wife. Everyone lives their lives in step with Moran's moods which change quickly without warning. Everyone except the one son who leaves before the story begins.

I enjoyed this novel very much. I think the author's best achievement was to describe the aging process of this man who had so much influence on those around him.


Chinook | 282 comments 1 - Have you ever been in Ireland? What do you know about the modern (post independence) Irish culture?

I went to Dublin several times when I lived in Edinburgh because you used to be able to get flights for just the cost of the taxes and so we’d go for a couple of days here and there. Later I did two backpacker bus trips, one around the north and one around the south. We had an interesting trip - in Belfast we went to a pub near the hostel we were staying at and noted it was odd to have to buzz in a video camera to have the caged door opened for us, but we went in anyway. According to the tour guide were in an IRA bar with recently released prisoners as part of the peace accords. Everyone seemed very nice and we drank for free all night. Then in Londonderry/Derry we found ourselves uncomfortable when a bunch of rather drunk older men started asking us all about our religions. I learned a lot when we were in Northern Ireland on the tour.

Scotland also has some sectarian violence. Partly because the Protestant terrorists will sometimes leave and lay low in Scotland and some that seems largely based around football clubs. We lived along a road that people would walk up to the football stadium from pubs downtown for games and there was a lot of singing of sectarian songs and sometimes violence. There were also Orange parades and violence around them.

#2 - Do you come from a large or close knit family? What do you think holds your family together? Shared times, shared values, a specific family identity or love....?

I’m the oldest of four children, so my nuclear family is fairly large. Only two of us have had children so far, but my youngest brother just turned 30 so there may be more to come. When I was younger we spent summers at a family cottage on an island with my Nana and my mom’s brothers and their families. Over the years, death and divorce and one feud have left my family feeling very small in comparison to what I recall from childhood. That said, my mom has a lot of cousins and they will do things like a family picnic in the summer, family perogi making parties, lots of baby showers and weddings etc. I haven’t been in Canada in 20 years now, so reintegrating into that will be interesting.

I think it’s more shared times than anything else. I have a very different relationship with my two brothers, for example, because one I grew up with because we were close in age. The other, I left the house when he was nine and we weren’t really close until he graduated university and started visiting me.

#3 - Do you think we can ever establish an identity independent from our family roots? Would that be desirable?

I think you can. I left Canada 20 years ago. I’ve gone home very 1-2 years in that time but really, I wasn’t terribly close to my family for most of that time. Then I moved a bit closer and my parents happened to be retired and my younger siblings happened to have a bit more spare money and suddenly they’ve all visited regularly. And now we will be moving home, which will also be interesting.

That said, for twenty years my life as an expat has been more central to my identity than my life in Canada had been. Really, I’ve never really been an adult in Canada, as I left straight out of university. I’ve romanticized the reality of life in Canada, I’m sure, as expats are wont to do.


Chinook | 282 comments 1 - Why is Rose so eager to marry a man the rest of the town and her own family have suspicions about?

I think that at the base of it, she wanted to be a real part of a family, not one of the help. The mention of the father of the house in which she worked asking her to iron his shirts and the wife getting really angry - it seems to me like there might have been more to that than is relayed, based on what I’ve heard of servant experiences (my ex-husband’s grandmother had been a maid in a great house before the war and she had a lot of stories to tell.)

I also think that there is a sense of mystery and maybe prestige in the family’s isolation for her at the beginning.

#2 - What do you think is the significance of the nightly ritual of saying the rosary, especially on nights when Moran explodes?

I think that it really drives home his role as master of his house, having them all participate and that it is often used as a passive aggressive jab at family members when/why he dedicates the praying to them.

#3 - How and why does Moran manipulate his family? As far as I’m concerned, he’s very emotionally abusive. Their lives are completely dominated by their fear of his outbreaks. He keeps them isolated from other members of the community, trying to even cut Rose off from her mother. He tries to control their futures as well - I was so angry with him for screwing his daughter out of a university degree. And he is physically violent as well, though it seems to be an uncommon occurrence. What’s interesting is that he is a sympathetic character - the fear of poverty that presumably came from his own childhood, the fact that he was bright but unable to continue his schooling, the fact that his bravery and smarts during war didn’t result in him being able to break what I read as a class barrier - the priests and doctors run the country now - so presumably mostly the upper classes. And I’m sure there was the hope that getting rid of the English upper classes might lead to more social mobility and it appears that instead the Irish gentry/rich just replaced them.

#4 - What does Luke mean when he says; "I kept my promise: I did not exist today"?

Just that he didn’t do anything to take the focus off the bride.

#5 - During the war for Irish Independence Moran was an officer and considered to be intelligent and fierce but after the war he felt displaced. He says: "The war was the best part of our lives"..."things were never so simple and clear again". Do you think that Moran confuses his own identity with that of his whole family? How do you think his being a soldier impacts his actions with his family?

I think his resentment of how his intelligence didn’t get him ahead during the war, which must have seemed to him as the only way out of his social station without becoming a priest, coloured the rest of his life. I think he was a small man, petty, angry, disillusioned. His dislike of those who had the chance of a better education than he had leads him to kill his daughter’s chances. I think part of his issue with Luke may also be that he went and made it big in England, the very country his father had fought against.

#6 - The daughters appear to gain strength at the end of their father's life. Why has Moran become afraid of his daughters?

They are trying to dominate him into better health and I don’t think he likes the loss of control. They, however, have gained confidence and strength by forging other ties. I also think it can sometimes be easier to stand up and fight for people you love, like husbands and children, than it can be for yourself.


message 17: by Gail (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1380 comments Very good point regarding #6: That it may be easier to fight for your loved ones than yourself. Also, I think your answer to #3 was exactly correct.


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