‘Lavin’ by John McGahern

Lavin, an elderly blacksmith, ‘close to the poorhouse’, in a rural Irish backwater, where most of McGahern’s brilliant stories are set, is the local paedophile. He is taunted by the village kids, who are both frightened and fascinated by him. What’s most clever and disturbing about this story is that McGahern makes you sympathise with Lavin, who was once young and handsome but who had ‘taken no interest in girls though he could have had his pick’. You sympathise with a life wasted in hard work; as the narrator remembers ‘…hardly a day passes but a picture of Lavin comes to trouble me: it is of him when he was young, and, they said, handsome, gathering the scattered tools at nightfall in a clean wheatfield after the others had gone drinking or to change for the dances’.

(from The Collected Stories, Faber, 1992)