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Authors: John McGahern

By the Lake

BOOK: By the Lake
By the Lake

“The most perfect novel I’ve read in years.”

—Malcolm Jones,

“Ireland’s finest living fiction writer.… A gripping, poignant book.”

Chicago Tribune

“This is the Irish temper, free of all the caricatures.… Writing this true, this unaffected—no wonder we celebrate the Irish.”

The Dallas Morning News

“Wonderful.… No body of water has been so lovingly revered since Henry David Thoreau went to the woods.””

The Christian Science Monitor

“Has the appeal of a letter from home.… Wonderfully engaging.”


“McGahern’s characters step in time with the gentle rhythms of the land, with the flowering of the whitethorn, the hum of the bees in clover and the annual migrations of the birds.… His lyrical, almost painterly evocation of the activities he knows so intimately is well-displayed here.”

The Washington Post

“McGahern enchants with simplicity and eloquence. Before we are aware he has done it, let alone how, we are drawn into his corner of remote rural Ireland, its characters and their lives.”

The Baltimore Sun

“McGahern’s luminous threnody to the particulars and permutations of aging and change is captured in prose of the utmost simplicity and precision, keenly alert to the rhythms of lives lived close to the bone and in quiet harmony with the natural world.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This great and moving novel, which looks so quiet and provincial, opens out through its small frame to our most troubling and essential questions.”

The Guardian

“This is a book to surrender yourself to. If you give in to its measured ebb and flow, you will find yourself in an intense, poetic world in which the simplest objects … take on a quiet but magical luminosity.”

The Economist

“One of Ireland’s most stupendous prose stylists, with an uncanny knack of homing in on the definitive moment, the illuminating detail.”

The Independent

“This beautiful novel … bestows on the reader one of the principal gifts of fiction: that of having one’s experience enlarged by a process of intense, almost resistless sympathy. Through intense concentration on the local, McGahern has again found a route to the universal.”

The Times Literary Supplement

By the Lake

John McGahern is the author of five highly acclaimed novels and four collections of short stories. His novel
Amongst Women
won the GPA Book Award and the Irish Times Award, was short-listed for the Booker Prize, and was made into a four-part BBC television series. He has been a visiting professor at Colgate University and at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and was the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Award, the American-Irish Award, and the Prix Étrangère Ecureuil, among other awards and honors. His work has appeared in anthologies and has been translated into many languages. He died in 2006.


The Barracks
The Dark
The Leavetaking
Getting Through
The Pornographer
High Ground
Amongst Women
The Collected Stories
All Will Be Well



The Power of Darkness


2002 by John McGahern

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain as
That They May Face the Rising Sun
by Faber & Faber Limited, London. Originally published under the present title in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, New York, in 2002.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has catalogued the Knopf edition as follows: McGahern, John.
By the lake : a novel / by John McGahern.—1
p. cm.
ISBN 0-679-41914-4
1. Eccentrics and eccentricities—Fiction.
2. Villages—Fiction. 3. Ireland—Fiction.
I. Title.
PR6063.A2176 B9 2002

Vintage ISBN: 0-679-74402-9
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8041-5319-5

Author photograph
Jerry Bauer


To Madeline

he morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for Mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire world to themselves.

The doors of the house were open. Jamesie entered without knocking and came in noiselessly until he stood in the doorway of the large room where the Ruttledges were sitting. He stood as still as if waiting under trees for returning wildfowl. He expected his discovery to be quick. There would be a cry of surprise and reproach; he would counter by accusing them of not being watchful enough. There would be welcome and laughter. When the Ruttledges continued to converse calmly about a visit they were expecting that same afternoon, he could contain himself no longer. Such was his continual expectation of discovery that in his eavesdropping he was nearly always disappointed by the innocence he came upon.

“Hel-lo. Hel-lo. Hel-lo,” he called out softly, in some exasperation.

“Jamesie!” They turned to the voice with great friendliness. As he often stole silently in, they showed no surprise. “You are welcome.”

“Ye are no good. I have been standing here for several minutes
and haven’t heard a bad word said about anybody yet. Not a bad word,” he repeated with mocking slowness as he came forward.

“We never speak badly about people. It’s too dangerous. It can get you into trouble.”

“Then ye never speak or if you do the pair of yous are not worth listening to.”

In his dark Sunday suit, white shirt, red tie, polished black shoes, the fine silver hair brushed back from the high forehead and sharp clean features, he was shining and handsome. An intense vividness and sweetness of nature showed in every quick, expressive movement.

“Kate.” He held out an enormous hand. She pretended to be afraid to trust her hand to such strength. It was a game he played regularly. For him all forms of social intercourse were merely different kinds of play. “God hates a coward, Kate,” he demanded, and she took his hand.

Not until she cried, “Easy there, Jamesie,” did he release his gently tightening grip with a low crow of triumph. “You are one of God’s troopers, Kate. Mister Ruttledge,” he bowed solemnly.

“Mister Murphy.”

“No misters here,” he protested. “No misters in this part of the world. Nothing but broken-down gentlemen.”

“There are no misters in this house either. He that is down can fear no fall.”

“Why don’t you go to Mass, then, if you are that low?” Jamesie changed the attack lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“You’d be like everybody else round here by now if you went to Mass.”

“I’d like to attend Mass. I miss going.”

“What’s keeping you, then?”

“I don’t believe.”

“I don’t believe,” he mimicked. “None of us believes and we go. That’s no bar.”

“I’d feel a hypocrite. Why do
go if you don’t believe?”

“To look at the girls. To see the whole performance,” he cried out, and started to shake with laughter. “We go to see all the other hypocrites. Kate, what do you think about all this? You’ve hardly said a word.”

“My parents were atheists,” Kate said. “They thought that all that exists is what you see, all that you are is what you think and appear to be.”

“Give them no heed, Kate,” he counselled gently. “You are what you are and to hell with the begrudgers.”

“The way we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived are often very different,” Ruttledge said.

“Pay no heed to him either. He’s just trying to twist and turn. Thought pissed in the bed and thought he was sweating. His wife thought otherwise. You’ll get on good as any of them, Kate.” He took pruning shears from his pocket and placed them on the table. “Thanks,” he said. “They were a comfort. Pure Sheffield. Great steel.”

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