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Cover image for By the lake : a novel
By the lake : a novel
Uniform Title:
That they may face the rising sun
1st American ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, 2002.
Physical Description:
335 pages ; 22 cm
"It is a village flirting with the more sophisticated trappings of modernity but steeped in the traditions of its unforgettable inhabitants and their lives."--Jacket.
Geographic Term:



Call Number
McGahern, J.

On Order



Widely considered to be the finest Irish writer of fiction at work today, John McGahern gives us a new novel that, with insight, humor, and deep sympathy, brings to vivid life the world and the people of a contemporary Irish village. It is a village flirting with the more sophisticated trappings of modernity but steeped in the traditions of its unforgettable inhabitants and their lives. There are the Ruttledges, who came from London in search of a different life on the edge of the village lake; John Quinn, who will stop at nothing to ensure a flow of women through his life; Jimmy Joe McKiernan, head of the local IRA as well as town auctioneer and undertaker; the gentle Jamesie and his wife, Mary, who have never left the lake and who know about everything that ever stirred or moved there; Patrick Ryan, the builder who never quite finishes what he starts; Bill Evans, the farmhand whose orphaned childhood was marked with state-sanctioned cruelties and whose adulthood is marked by the scars; and the wealthiest man in town, known as the Shah. A year in the lives of these and other characters unfolds through the richly observed rituals of work and play, of religious observance and annual festivals, and the details of the changing seasons, of the cycles of birth and death. With deceptive simplicity and eloquence, the author reveals the fundamental workings of human nature as it encounters the extraordinary trials and pleasures, terrors and beauty, of ordinary life. By the Lake is John McGahern's most ambitious, generous, and superbly realized novel yet.

Author Notes

John McGahern was born in Dublin in 1934. He has received several awards for his writing, including the AE Memorial Award in 1952, for the manuscript of "'The Barracks," and British Arts Council awards in 1968, 1970, and 1973. His other books include "The Dark" and "Amongst Women," nominated for the Booker Prize in 1990.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

McGahern (Amongst Women, etc.) expertly captures the rhythms of smalltown Irish life in a graceful but underplotted novel that takes a diverse and gregarious cast of local characters through a transitional period in a lakeside village. Much of the narrative revolves around the daily life of the Ruttledges, a farming couple who become the focal point of the village's social interaction after they leave the London rat race for a more peaceful life. The most engaging and colorful characters in the book are John Quinn, a local womanizer whose life becomes a source of gossip and controversy when his bride leaves him right after the wedding, and a figurehead known as "the Shah," the richest man in the village, whose decision to sell his business represents a turning point in the town's way of life. Lurking in the background is a shadier political figure, Jimmy Joe McKiernan, whose involvement with the IRA poses a different kind of threat to the rhythms of daily life whenever a bout of upheaval and violence erupts. McGahern gets plenty of mileage from the poignant scenes describing the rituals and chores of farming along with the common social affairs that form the backbone of daily life, but the absence of a strong story line reduces this book to an extended character study. The author's warm, flowing prose makes that study an enjoyable read, but readers who pick this up based on McGahern's track record for well-reviewed and award-winning novels may find themselves disappointed. (Mar. 11) Forecast: Nearly 10 years have gone by since the publication of McGahern's last book his Collected Stories so this offering will likely be thoroughly scrutinized by reviewers, for better or for worse. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

An episodic and subtly elegiac group portrait of life in a contemporary Irish village: the sixth, and best, novel-and first in 12 years-from veteran author McGahern (Amongst Women, 1990, etc.). Originally published in Great Britain as That They May Face the Rising Sun, it focuses on Joe and Kate Ruttledge, a former London couple who live modestly by working their small lakeside farm-and, with gradually increasing clarity and intensity, on the friends and neighbors whose intermittently shared lives become all but inseparable. McGahern introduces his characters in the most natural way imaginable-as casual visitors who drop in for a drink and a chat, and as subjects of stories they all tell about one another. Joe's uncle, the wealthy businessman nicknamed "the Shah," who conceals his lonely vulnerability beneath a veneer of brisk efficiency; neighbor Jamesie, a compulsive taleteller and gossip and his quiet wife Mary; aging pensioner Bill Evans, still traumatized by physical abuse he suffered in boyhood at the hands of wrathful priests; contractor Patrick Ryan, who never finishes anything he starts-professionally or personally; a genial Don Juan, John Quinn, who keeps finding propertied widows to marry: all become part of the comforting (and smothering) fabric that sustains the Ruttledges "by the lake," impervious to the siren call of more lucrative employment in London. Very little happens, apart from Quinn's incessant amours. Jamesie's rootless brother Johnny, an annual visitor, may come "home" to stay; but the threat passes. The Shah retires, and his longtime employee manages (with Joe's aid) to buy his business. Hints of more earthshaking occurrences follow the arrival of an otherwise typical spring, as local IRA leader Jimmy Joe McKiernan leads an "Easter March" through the hamlet that had thought itself immune to such "troubles." 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.

Booklist Review

McGahern is a highly regarded Irish fiction writer, and his short stories (Collected Stories, 1993) are as famous as his novels. His latest tale is simply a joy to read. Although it lacks a strong, connective plotline, it is a triumph of setting and character. With Irish warmth and love of language, McGahern chronicles the lives of individuals in a small Irish community during a relatively short period of time. A sizable cast of characters can often mean that short shrift is given to developing any one of them fully, but McGahern renders all of them as the complex individuals they are. Readers will have their favorites among these villagers, but each one is an acquaintance gladly made. Although change does come to the lake--in the form of death as well as the new phone lines that connect even the remotest house--timelessness and ordinariness rise with the sun every morning. This is a beautiful pageant of contemporary Irish life that is also a lovely understanding of life in all its harmony everywhere. --Brad Hooper

Library Journal Review

Just as one of the characters in this novel walks into his neighbor's house and joins in an ongoing conversation, so the reader enters the lives of these people, who live near a lake in northwestern Ireland. McGahern presents Joe Ruttledge and his wife, Kate, who have moved from London to this rural area and interact on a daily basis with neighbors Jamesie Murphy and his wife, Mary. Also in the picture are Bill Evans, an oddball old-timer; John Quinn, who has marital and sexual problems; and Patrick Ryan, a neighborhood fix-it man who is supposed to be building a new shed on the Ruttledge's property. During the course of a year, a wedding and a funeral take place, along with events such as the cutting and tedding of hay and the livestock auction on Monaghan Day. Though the book is timeless and remote in setting, the political and social forces of Ireland's turbulent history do intrude occasionally. This is not a plot-driven page-turner, as McGahern, a highly regarded Irish author of novels and stories (e.g., Amongst Women), chooses to accentuate the small talk and daily routines of his characters. The novel gathers force as the personalities and customs of rural life ring true and move according to their own rhythms. Recommended for academic and larger public library fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/01.] Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.