Just a few notes about some favourites.
This weekend the annual John McGahern International Seminar takes place in Carrick on Shannon and Aughawillan (I hope to make it there one year).
This prompted a nice article in the Irish Independent last week. I loved this bit:
The people he lived among seem hardly surprised by the attention. On the day Margaret Thatcher's death was announced, it was a talking point as John Fox chatted to customers pumping diesel into plastic containers at his garage in Ballinamore.
A car was waiting for fuel at the pump, but John was good humoured as his work was interrupted – obviously not for the first time – with questions about the McGahern connection. On the demise of the Iron Lady, he remarked: "They won't be crying about her around here."
Having featured in not just one but two of McGahern's most celebrated works, Fox is probably resigned to the fact that even a glimpse of him filling petrol stops some people in their tracks.
When I visited Ballinamore a couple of years ago, I met John Fox in his petrol station and was similarly stopped in my tracks. It's a bit like meeting the actor in one of your favourite long-running TV dramas, you feel that you 'know them' but have to remind yourself that you know a fictionalised character, not the person standing in front of you.
When I was at the Fox garage he moved away after a brief conversation to serve a customer leaving me to talk with one of his younger colleagues. Before Fox left, we got to talking about the differences between Mohill and Ballinamore. I was sceptical that two towns so close together (about 25 kms from memory) could be very different. Fox's colleague told me (with a twinkle in his eye) that the black and tans had been stationed in Mohill and many of their descendants still lived there and "some of them haven't had the horns bred out of them yet".
See also this brief report of Roy Foster's opening address to the seminar.
One of McGahern's faourite novels was Stoner by John Williams. (McGahern also greatly admired The Great Gatsby and Jane Austen's Persuasion, which he said were the two most perfect novels in the english language).
Fast forward to today and the book is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. It is a best-seller across much of Europe, including the Netherlands, where it has been the best-selling novel for the past two months. But it is not the action-packed thriller or steamy romance you might expect to be topping the charts. It is a quiet, slim novel about a young man who leaves a hardscrabble farm in Missouri to become a literature professor in 1910.
"It sort of pays tribute to a man whose life is, in one sense, utterly ordinary, but, in another sense, rich as anyone's life can be," said Edwin Frank, who runs New York Review of Books Classics, which republished Stoner in 2006.
I love Stoner and highly recommend it.
Another McGahern favourite that I also love is Alistair MacLeod. MacLeod is a Canadian writer of Scottish highlander descent. His short stories, in particular, are very evocative.