The Barracks by John McGahern
purchased from Kennys Bookshop
Summary from Goodreads:
One of the preeminent Irish writers of our time, John McGahern has captivated readers with such poignant and heart-wrenching novels as Amongst Women and The Dark. Moving between tragedy and savage comedy, desperation and joy, McGahern's first novel, The Barracks, is one of haunting power. Elizabeth Reegan, after years of freedom—and loneliness—marries into the enclosed Irish village of her upbringing. The children are not her own; her husband is straining to break free from the servile security of the police force; and her own life, threatened by illness, seems to be losing the last vestiges of its purpose.
Well, I have to say that the only book I have ever read that was more depressing than this one was Famine by Liam O'Flaherty. From the first page,it seemed that the characters, Elizabeth Reegan especially, felt a certain detachment from their lives. Mrs. Reegan seems to be just barely getting through each day of the monotony of her life. There are the small joys of certain tasks performed well and the small praise she may receive, but they are small and the fear for her health is ever present. In every character except perhaps the children, there is evidence of bitterness and dissatisfaction with life.
Almost the entire novel is told from Elizabeth Reegan's point of view - all except that last several pages. Elizabeth had been a nurse before she married Reegan and she reflects on her past job and relationship with Halliday, a doctor in London. Because of her former nursing career, she is aware of what her symptoms may indicate and the fear causes her to delay seeing a doctor for months. Most of the book deals with her illness and how she and Reegan, her husband, deal with it. There is so little happiness in their lives and her illness only adds to their troubles. Reegan feels his job as police officer to be too restraining despite the security of a steady job.
It was a struggle for me to finish the book because it was just so very sad - not just Elizabeth's inevitable death, but also the constraints of their lives and the futility they seemed to feel. I thought the author did a good job of describing every day life in a small town in 1950's Ireland, so I did finish reading it. I think I will try McGahern's Amongst Women next.