This review does not contain spoilers.
With Islam tearing itself, and most of the Middle East, apart at the seams because of denominational, ideological, and doctrinal differences it is easy to forget that Christianity has had it’s own experience of hatred, violence, bloodshed, and the corrosion of legal governance because of similar differences, and not that long ago: Northern Ireland; and the fact that the current conflict contains a large dose of post-colonial revenge doesn’t make it more different, it makes it more the same, just on a larger, international scale.
Brain Moore (1921 – 1999) Northern Irish born Canadian novelist wrote much about his homeland, the Troubles, and in no uncertain terms placed most of the blame on the Christian teachings – on both sides – of hate, entitlement, and rightness. Many of his books have been adapted for the screen: Intent to Kill, The Luck of Ginger, Coffey, Catholics, Black Robe, and most notably The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987) starring Maggie Smith. He also wrote screenplays, some based on his own prose, but also, among many, Hitchcock’s Torn Curtin (1966). Graeme Green always liked to cite Moore as his favourite living novelist which was flattering but also, according to Moore, “a bit of an albatross.”
His 1990 and Man Booker Prize nominated novel Lies of Silence (he was nominated three times) is set squarely in the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland. Michael Dillon, a failed writer, now successful hotel manager in Belfast, is forced by masked IRA house-invaders to commit an act of terror or his wife will be killed. This in itself is a strong set-up but Moore raises the stakes. On the night of the house invasion he plans to tell his wife he wants a divorce, he has fallen in love with someone else and plans tomorrow to leave with her for London, but instead of the truth his wife’s insecurity about her looks and job prospects, and his guilt no doubt, causes him to try and bolster her lack of self-confidence and instead of the truth he is forced to let her believe that she is a woman a husband would never leave. They sleep. He will tell her in the morning but he never gets the chance. It’s a page turner; but more so because of the additional drama supplied by themes of religious hypocrisy, cowardice, faithfulness, loyalty, love and dishonour.
I thought all Booker Prize nominated novels were high on character, low on plot. Not this one; in fact plot takes pride of place but character isn’t neglected; it is effectively painted through, among other things, dialogue; heartening since there is a modern trend, particularly in Australia, where dialogue is looked down upon as a novelistic tool. Moira, Dillon’s beautiful wife, more beautiful than his mistress, Andrea, is cleverly painted through what she says and how she says it. She is no shrinking violet; she is ballsy, determined, and sassy – she stands up to the IRA home invaders – but at the same time insecure, bulimic, and frightened. Dillion’s ‘Soloman’s Choice’, makes for a great plot-driver: the terror target is his own hotel and the possible dead, by his hand, would include his staff, guests, and a right-wing preacher who is in fact the actual target of the attack. Dillion hates him but in the ‘will I/won’t I save my staff or my wife’ his duty to his staff and guests – hundreds of them – is compromised by the fact that if he saves them he also saves the preacher-arshole, who he believes deserves a bomb. I’m not spoiling it for you; this is just the set-up.
After reading and blogging about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – a tome the size of a first-issue mobile-phone – remember them? – I raced through Moore’s and not just because of its normal paperback size: it was hard to put down. In the current reader-esque universe of keeping-up-with-the-latest-work-of-your-literary-heroes it’s very likely that you may have missed Brian Moore, I did – there’s so much to read! – but Moore is worth searching out if only as a relief from the intense literary fiction of today.
In his obituary in the Guardian (1999) the writer succinctly described Moore’s literary output as continually testing “even further the unremitting search of humanity for certainties in a remarkably unreliable universe. Almost two decades on and in another century that universe is, unfortunately, still remarkably unreliable.