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The Pornographer

The Pornographer

by John McGahern, introduction by Anne Enright

Regular price $17.95
Regular price Sale price $17.95
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The September 2024 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club

The Pornographer is the story of a writer down on his luck, not a Dubliner but a resident of Dublin penning far from erotic tales to make ends meet. These tales—revolving around the “delicious, unending revel” of Colonel Grimshaw and the typist Mavis Carmichael—form a mordant counterpoint to his own, much more complicated existence.

Thirty years old, befogged by alcohol, sensitive yet indifferent to all emotional weather, he meets the slightly older Josephine, a clever, cautiously optimistic magazine editor who soon confesses her love, and though the feeling isn’t mutual (as he makes painfully clear) the affair goes on; Josephine becomes pregnant; and, this being Ireland in the seventies, the piper must be paid.

Not cruel but callous, the pornographer reels through his days, paying regular visits to a beloved aunt from the country who now lies dying in Dublin, and to his publisher, a citified and cynical Polonius who advises him to “be careful not to let life in.” As the days turn into months, he begins to wonder what letting life in might look like. What would it mean, and where would it lead, to do right by others?

First published in 1979, John McGahern’s fourth novel is a character study of rare and unsparing insight. In rhythmic, lyrical prose, McGahern gives voice to the longing and self-loathing of a soul caught between a traditional world he believes he has rejected and a brave new world of advertised freedoms, sexual and otherwise, which offers no guarantee of love.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681378800
Pages: 272
Publication Date:


Let it be admitted—nay, proclaimed—that Mr. McGahern writes entrancingly, with a lively pace and constant melody. Each sentence is tuned to a certain singing tension, the local lilt exploited subtly.... Often a single cunning word lifts a description well up from the ordinary.... McGahern writes well, and for the usual reasons: he observes well, hears faithfully, and feels keenly.
—John Updike

When The Pornographer appeared me and my colleagues devoured it. This isolated existential hero producing his pornography in Dublin was electrifying for us.
—Colm Tóibín

The story's simpleness is, ultimately, its hook. Sly, poetic, grim, unadorned—a fine book by a superior, almost invisible artist.
Kirkus Reviews

McGahern's tales are utterly convincing, poignant and moving, and the writing is unflinching and spare.
—William O’ Rourke, Chicago Tribune

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