A Lesson in Living
Was any novelist – or journalist come to that – writing about breast cancer in the early 1960s? Did anyone – apart from the medical profession and a few bold souls – even talk about it? When I was growing up, the word ‘breast’ was usually only encountered in literature or hymns and was likely to summon a snigger; women and girls had ‘chests’. A mastectomy was considered almost a matter of shame. Astonishing, then, that John McGahern’s first novel, The Barracks, published in 1963, has Elizabeth Reegan’s breast cancer at its centre.