I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Minding The Language

Rachel Andrews
Love of the World: Essays, by John McGahern, Faber, 350 pp, ISBN: 978-0571245116 Gustave Flaubert once wrote that to write well is everything. John McGahern quotes this sentence, and many others, from Flaubert – one of his writerly heroes –in the course of an essay on Dubliners published in this collection of his non-fiction work which, appearing three years after his death, provides a new aspect to a voice familiar until now through fiction and autobiography. In the essay, McGahern’s chief concern is to consider the quality of Joyce’s prose, which the author himself described as being “a style of scrupulous meanness” and to which McGahern ascribes an “authority and plain sense” that clearly reflects how he believes fiction – indeed all writing – should be approached. For McGahern, Flaubert’s dictum is an imperative: that is why he quotes him so liberally throughout. In order to be able to write well, he believes, one needs to find “a unique expression, endlessly reworked and enriched, until it is pared down to an individual style, to the point where the man behind the work is his work and eventually becomes one with it”. Dubliners is a great work of art, he concludes, because, in the book “the method is that people, events, and places invariably find their true expression … Everything is important in Dubliners because it is there and everything there is held in equal importance.” There is serious attention paid to the art and craft of writing in Love of the World, reflecting McGahern’s priorities as a writer. He did not write quickly – taking twelve years between his greatest literary success, Amongst Women (1990), and his next publication, That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) – and he constantly rewrote his work, even after it had been published: he regularly reworked his short stories and revised The Leavetaking (1974) ten years after its first appearance. He was also a ruthless editor, paring Amongst Women down to two hundred pages from its original twelve hundred, in the process creating spare, exact prose in which no word or phrase is redundant. The workings of his craft are evidenced in “Five Drafts”, the first piece in the collection, in which he writes and rewrites a paragraph on sexuality, love and the church, but his thoughts on that which is inherently important within good prose reappear time and again throughout the collection. In “The Solitary Reader”, he recalls his early writing years: “Words had been a physical…

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