Moore, Brian (Vol. 19)
Moore, Brian 1921–
Moore is an Irish-born Canadian novelist living in the United States. Typically, his subjects are self-deceived outcasts in need of self-redemption. His study of a pathetic alcoholic spinster in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is outstanding, a minor classic of Canadian literature. Eschewing experimentation, Moore is esteemed for his ability to write convincingly of society's aliens and misfits in a conventional style. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1.)
One of the most impressive features of Moore's canon has been his ability to keep from repeating himself. Over and over again he has found fresh inventions which have developed his novelistic skills and enabled him to explore his obsessive themes and preoccupations in ways that have made for an increasingly complex continuity between old and new. (p. 53)
[His] novels may be grouped according to their settings which, since they correspond to the peregrinations of Moore's self-imposed exile from Ireland, are with one or two exceptions chronological divisions as well.
Four of the novels have been set in Ireland, three in his native Belfast. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne …, his first and best known book, is still the standard against which his subsequent performances are judged. This was followed … by another Belfast novel, The Feast of Lupercal, a somewhat slighter work ('a little bit too quiet' in Moore's retrospective judgment). Both novels are studies of losers, whose fates are determined by the claustrophobic gentility of Belfast and the suffocating weight of Irish Catholicism. Both illustrate one of the quintessential données of Moore's fiction: that (in his own words) 'failure is a more interesting condition than success. Success changes people: it makes them something they were not and dehumanises them in a way, whereas failure leaves you with a more intense distillation of that...
(The entire section is 1898 words.)
HUBERT de SANTANA
[The Mangan Inheritance] is mined from very dark depths, and written with sustained intensity. There are echoes and resonances from Moore's earlier fiction, but these are part of a process of continuation rather than repetition. Jamie Mangan, 36, is a Canadian of Irish descent, a failed poet, ex-newspaper reporter and part-time correspondent for the CBC in New York. His American wife, Beatrice Abbot, star of stage and screen, uses her vast income to manipulate people. When she leaves Mangan for another man, he tells himself ruefully that Beatrice is "one of the all-American winners. And if she ditches you, it's because you're a loser. A Canadian loser." A marital paradigm of U.S.-Canada relations. (p. 46)
Nearly 2 years after he wrote of Ginger Coffey's experiences as a proofreader for the Montreal Gazette, Moore returns to the offices of that newspaper. Jamie's father is the managing editor…. There is an unusual mellowness in Moore's treatment of the relationship between Mangan père and Mangan fils. It is free of the agony and psychological bloodletting of the father-son clashes in some of Moore's other novels.
While going through some family papers in Montreal, Jamie discovers a daguerreotype of a man who is his exact double. It is tentatively dated 1847. Could this be the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan, "Europe's first poète maudit," who died in 1849? Jamie feels that if...
(The entire section is 558 words.)
Tim Pat Coogan
Moore's latest novel The Mangan Inheritance, is an "entertainment," most of which I found highly entertaining. Most, but not all.
It has every Irish cliché—guilt, mist, red hair, drunkenness, madness, poetry, lust, ruined castles, violence, a fair amount of sex and some incest, the kind of thing the Irish Censorship Board used to save us from in the days when Moore was a young Irish exile writing short stories in Canada.
In the novel, Moore writes in the phantasmagorical tradition of the old Irish "Seanachai" or storytellers who used to travel about the country weaving tales—usually for their night's drink and lodgings—in which the supernatural and the commonplace, fantasy and fact were all tools for the telling.
It is a genre which suits Moore, because sometimes when he is writing in the grip of that fundamental pessimism of the Irish, particularly of the Irish artist, he strikes me as finding it easier to tell an unusual story, than to empathize with his characters. (pp. 10-11)
The book's central theme is a highly ingenious idea, and Moore handles the research into poor James Clarence extremely well. This part of the book might be termed an Irish Roots….
[The] story unfolds almost like a film script, as it might have been written in a partnership between Charles Addams and Monty Python with acknowledgements to Darby O'Gill and the Little...
(The entire section is 383 words.)
[The narrative in The Mangan Inheritance] could easily have become absurd but, although the facts stretch one's credulity beyond the rational breaking point, [Moore] handles them with such a feel for place and such an accuracy of observation that you don't stop to think how far-fetched and silly it all is until it's over and done….
This is not the first time Moore has toyed with the supernatural. He did it in The Great Victorian Collection when he had a man create a real museum of Victoriana by, in effect, focusing his imagination. He has also written about the relation between the new world and the old, most effectively in Catholics, his novella about the abolition of the old tridentine mass. I prefer the second of the two interests, at least in Moore's case. I cannot think of another novelist with the ear and the ability to evoke both so effectively. He really is as assured in rural Ireland as he is in metropolitan New York and he is clearly interested in getting them both right….
Not for the first time either he includes an element of Canada. But, although Jamie Mangan is a Canadian with a Canadian father, he scarcely has a recognizable Canadian identity….
Montreal is, by Moore's standards, perfunctorily described and the only distinctive feature he really gets across is the extreme cold. He even retails the standard Canadian inferiority complex as if by rote. (p. 12)...
(The entire section is 380 words.)
The second half of Brian Moore's disappointing new novel, The Mangan Inheritance, takes place on the ould sod, as the style shifts from that of a conventional novel of manners to the wild improbabilities of a gothic romance….
The Mangan Inheritance is a good yarn, poorly told. Although there are some vivid and powerful moments, they are inevitably diminished by the flatness of the central character. We are told that Jamie is "an indifferent caretaker of his talent," yet nowhere is there a hint of this talent…. Jamie's overwhelming concern is himself. The entire book is, in a sense, the protagonist staring at himself staring in the mirror. Narcissism may be fun for the beholder, and voyeurism has its pleasures, but it's wearisome to watch someone we don't care about watch himself.
The Mangan Inheritance is a risky book. The problem is that we are always aware that Moore is taking a chance. He strains after lyricism, and labors to be both fantastical and shocking, but while his daring may be admirable, one hears the machinery creaking off-stage.
Richard Stengel, "End of the Line" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1979), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIV, No. 43, October 22, 1979, p. 50.
(The entire section is 208 words.)
Brian Moore remains a curiously unplaceable writer, in a variety of senses. The themes of his work have moved from Ireland to Canada and back again, from detailed psychological studies like The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne to elaborate ghost stories like The Great Victorian Collection, from alienated middle-class heroines like Mary Dunne to the politicking clerics of Catholics. In treatment, too, his style embraces near-slapstick, allegory, and documentary-drama. It would be unreasonable to expect similar success, a similar sureness of touch, in all these incarnations; nor is it to be found. What one can rely on is his unpredictability. In The Mangan Inheritance, as usual, one's expectations are confounded; what begins as another study of bourgeois identity crisis shifts into a family drama with implications of a historical detective story….
The Mangan Inheritance might seem to combine themes from several of Moore's earlier novels into a framework of compelling interest; and this is partially true. Though nothing quite equals the early New York scenes …, the Irish milieu is created with a refreshing lack of cliché. There is a terrible verisimilitude in the combination of gloomy, magical landscape with a lifestyle characterized by feuding, drink, incarceration in mental hospitals, incest and Librium…. But with the scene set and the action rolling, the characters fail to react on cue. The...
(The entire section is 601 words.)
Brian Moore has a great wallow in Irishness in The Mangan Inheritance before his protagonist rejects his Irish ancestry, condemns the verses of the early 19th century poet, his namesake, as 'derivative, dull and pathetic', and gets the hell out back to Canada. It appears to have been Moore's intention to explore and explode certain myths, e.g. that there is something romantic, even magical, about Ireland, that priest, pig-breeder and poteen-drinker are all poets under the skin, that piety and respect for one's forefathers are particularly Irish virtues, but if that was his intention he seems to have succumbed to the influence of those myths while he was writing about them. For the greater part of the book, while he is in Ireland, James Mangan feels increasingly happy and at home; the myths more than compensate for the squalid conditions in which he lives…. It is in this long section of the book that Moore's writing is at its best, vivid in its descriptions of landscape and locals, altogether different from the flat, undistinguished first quarter of the book, and the final few pages, both of which passages are set in Canada.
If James's disillusionment at the end is to be dramatically effective, his initial coup de foudre should be convincing, and it is nothing of the sort. (pp. 128-29)
Perhaps one is wrong to search for meanings and messages, but the book does not have the feel of sheer entertainment....
(The entire section is 286 words.)
During the last ten years Brian Moore has moved away from the scrupulous and sober realism that distinguished his earlier novels. Judith Hearne (1955) and The Feast of Lupercal (1958), portraits of frustrated individuals enmeshed in the society of middle-class Belfast, resembled in their art the work of an anguished Dutch master. But in fact early on in Brian Moore's career an anarchic vein showed itself, and in a remarkable scene which occurs towards the close of what is perhaps the strongest of his pre-1970 novels, The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1966) we have a pointer and a clue to the overt and formal anarchies of the more recent fiction….
[Moore has said that this scene describing jubilant reaction to the bombing of Belfast] came directly from his own experience, and that young Gavin's reactions had been in fact his own. Hatred and the consequent passionate search for a different society with different 'mores' work against Dutchmaster realism, and [so] it was inevitable that sooner or later Brian Moore would abandon it….
In the novels of the last ten years Brian Moore has tried to explore the complexities of American/Californian life while coming to further terms with the ghosts of his Irish past.
Fergus (1971), his masterpiece, is indeed an account of precisely that—an Irish expatriate, working in Hollywood, is visited during an afternoon and night of inner conflict...
(The entire section is 790 words.)