His feeling of isolation is something that compounds the misery within the farmhouse walls; it begets isolation in each of his kids, although the book concerns itself chiefly with the son's perspective. It is a power struggle that blights many father and son relationships at the time when sons become young men.
It captures the longing and frustration of the un-named protagonist and centres on his complex relationship with his father. It does sometimes break into the close third person, which alienates and disorientates the reader and reflects the protagonists own alienation with himself.
From the very first page you are drawn into a really nasty and uncomfortable scene which really sets the mood in a very hard and upsetting way.
Later the book concludes with father and son sharing a bed in a rooming house when the father visits after the son has grown up and gone away to college. That said, its a worthy read, compelling and illustrative of certain truths, one being that love, or something strangely resemblant, can and does exist between two people in an abusive relationship. Truth number two: while the previously-mentioned truth was probably common in olden times before people were exposed to the liberating influences of modern Freudian Psychology and its therapies, it is rare today, probably only existing in social backwaters and old cultures. I found myself unable to leave The Darks tortured pages while in sunny Hawaii (I only had the final two chapters left to read). Why does The Darks young male protagonist respectfully listen to and honor his father, a man who bullied him for all twenty years of his life? The things that remain the longest are the feelings and memories we leave behind in others who truly knew us and loved us.
John McGahern is one of those wonderful writers who while somewhat appreciated in their time, (his excellent novel Against Women was shortlisted for the Booker Prize) never achieved the fame they deserved. Much like in Against Women, one of the focal points of the novel is an overbearing, tyrannical, and abusive father, raising children on his own.
I was introduced to this book when we read its first page at a workshop, and it had me hooked. The book was banned upon release, forcing McGahern to quit his teaching job and flee to England, for daring to write about the truths of his society.
But in a way that seems so backwards and thwarted to me.
McGahern's second novel 'The Dark' was banned in Ireland for its alleged pornographic content and implied clerical sexual abuse.