Moore, Brian (Vol. 32)
Brian Moore 1921–
Irish-born Canadian novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and scriptwriter.
Moore is a respected novelist who uses traditional structure and an unadorned, straightforward prose style. His work is usually praised for its intriguing plots; careful characterization, especially of women; and skillful evocation of place, including Belfast, where he was born, and Canada and the United States, where he has lived. Moore often draws upon his Roman Catholic background to examine themes of spiritual, psychological, and social conflict. His protagonists are generally alienated people who are luckless, displaced, or consumed by their own needs or the needs of others.
In Moore's first novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955), the aged title character assesses her life with bitterness, finding solace in alcohol and her imagination. This novel brought Moore immediate acclaim and recognition, as critics were impressed with his subtle communication of Judith Hearne's desperation. The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960), which won the Governor General's Award, relates the futile efforts of an Irish emigre in Canada to achieve success for himself and financial security for his family.
Moore's later fiction often contains supernatural events and reveals his growing interest in religious and metaphysical issues. Catholics (1972) focuses on the conflict between traditional Roman Catholic dogma and the more socially oriented contemporary Catholic church. The Great Victorian Collection (1975) examines the difficulty of distinguishing between appearance and reality. In The Temptation of Eileen Hughes (1981) a middle-aged businessman becomes infatuated with a twenty-year-old shopgirl whom he desires as an object of worship. Critics praised Moore for his insightful portrayal of obsessive love and the human need for a god-figure. Cold Heaven (1983) concerns a woman who sees her husband die in a boating accident. The next day his body vanishes and there are clues suggesting that he has returned to life. Moore investigates spiritual themes and guilt as the woman attempts to understand the implications of both her religious experiences and her marital infidelity.
With each new novel, Moore continues to earn praise for his absorbing narratives and credible characters. As Joyce Carol Oates notes, "His reputation as a supremely entertaining 'serious' writer is secure."
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 19; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1.)
Brian Moore is the most extraordinary and the most professional of Canada's writers. In 26 years he has published 12 novels of high literary quality, earning himself a Governor General's Award for fiction with his third, The Luck of Ginger Coffey,… in 1960. And yet his name is rarely included in those Canlitanies that our critics delight in droning through. Amongst our literary establishment, it seems almost a breach of good taste to mention that Moore is a Canadian writer.
He has two strikes against him, of course. Not only is he an immigrant, but he is a Canadian emigré. More often than not he sets his novels in his Irish homeland or in the United States where he now lives instead of in the true North strong and free. And he has chosen to work out of effete Malibu rather than weather the rough justice of our climate and our literary politics.
There may be more subtle reasons for the disfavour he attracts here. His books have consistently made proper nonsense of the cherished theory that victims and survivors are human phenomena somehow unique to Canadian literature. And it seems to me that his outstanding skill in depicting women is distrusted, and even resented as a trespass, by some of our women writers.
The Temptation of Eileen Hughes will do little to assuage those resentments. Although most of its action takes place in contemporary London, it derives from Moore's...
(The entire section is 642 words.)
We enter Brian Moore's tautly dramatic new novel ["The Temptation of Eileen Hughes"] … through the eyes of Eileen Hughes, a 20-year-old from Northern Ireland on her first visit to London. She's the sort of person who says, "It's grand, really it is," when Bernard McAuley, her employer's husband, shows her into the tiny top-floor maid's room she must stay in because the hotel has neglected to reserve her a room near the McAuleys' suite….
But what is Eileen Hughes doing here with the McAuleys, a Roman Catholic couple from Eileen's home town of Lismore, who are rich where she is poor, worldly where she is innocent, bold where she is shy?…
[After] tantalizing us with … finely calibrated innuendoes, Mr. Moore reveals the game that is afoot. Bernard McAuley is insanely in love with Eileen. He's worshiped her ever since Mona first hired her to work in one of their stores. He had meant to bring her to London only to be near her while his frustrated wife hunted up sexual partners.
But when Eileen jokingly lets it drop that she wouldn't mind living in a mansion, Bernard drops his guard and tells her his feelings and his plan. He has secretly bought a big new house in the country and he wants to install Eileen in it along with his wife. How would Eileen like to have her own suite of rooms and a new better-paying job? But far from being flattered or aroused by this proposal, Eileen is terrified and...
(The entire section is 612 words.)
Peter S. Prescott
More than most novelists, I think, Brian Moore enjoys playing with his readers' expectations. Aha, he seems to say, you thought I was writing about this; now don't you feel a little foolish to discover that I was really up to something else—something more innocent and yet more terrible—all along? His new novel [The Temptation of Eileen Hughes] seems at first to have a theme as old as novel writing itself: the seduction of an ignorant virgin by a corrupt man with the compliance of his wife. Not so. Moore's real concern here is with love considered as a potentially fatal disease. It's a theme nearly as old as the other—"Manon Lescaut" and "The Sorrows of Young Werther" spring to mind—but one to which Moore gives an interesting spin: the story is told not from the lover's point of view, but from those of the women involved. (pp. 63-4)
Matters do not turn out well; they never do in this kind of novel. Moore sets up a classic conflict—the predatory rich man accustomed to arranging other people's lives to suit himself stalking the honorable girl for whom concession means escape from a life of genteel poverty—and then devotes most of his story to Eileen's attempts to evade Bernard's attempts at pursuit. Because Bernard is genuinely demented, Moore wisely confines his perspective to those whom Bernard affects. He moves with assurance and apparent ease from third- to first-person narration, gliding in and out of both Mona's...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
Joyce Carol Oates
In his long and estimable career, Brian Moore has written a number of novels prized for their storytelling qualities and for a wonderfully graceful synthesis of the funny, the sardonic, the poignant and the near tragic; his reputation as a supremely entertaining "serious" writer is secure. In his best-remembered novels—"The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" (1956) and "The Luck of Ginger Coffey" (1960), my own favorite among his 14 books—he works that indefinable miracle of creating a character in such a way that it is difficult to believe we have not actually known Judith Hearne or poor luckless Ginger….
These highly readable novels succeed most compellingly on an immediate level: rich with convincing detail, communicating the admixture of drollery and sorrow that characterizes "real" life, populated with individuals who speak and act and dream and breathe as if altogether innocent of the fact that they are mere fictitious characters.
By contrast, Brian Moore's "The Great Victorian Collection" (1975), a slender parabolic enterprise burdened with a transparent, and surely unsurprising, theme concerning "appearances" and "reality," is puzzling by its very thinness; allegorical in intention, it ended as something akin to anecdote. And now, in "The Temptation of Eileen Hughes," there is another spare message-laden work that appears to address itself in allegorical fashion to an ambitious subject—mankind's need to...
(The entire section is 896 words.)
Brian Moore must always be a cause both of bewilderment and of envy to his fellow novelists. Whereas other modern Irish writers fizz and flash with stylistic intoxication, he has become increasingly sober. So rarely does he produce an out-of-the-way metaphor or simile that, when he does so, it has an unusually powerful impact….
But, mysteriously, beneath this surface flatness, strange creatures thresh, slither and collide with each other. Many sentences may seem bare, some may even seem banal; but the cumulative impression left by a sequence of them is one of complexity and originality. It is as difficult for another novelist to say precisely how Mr. Moore brings this off as for another dramatist to say precisely how Terence Rattigan accomplished the same kind of feat in a series of plays in which memorable characters come to life out of lines through which no blood seems to pulse.
In The Temptation of Eileen Hughes, a married couple and a young girl arrive at an expensive Belgravia hotel from Northern Ireland. The girl, Eileen, imagines that she has been brought along as the friend of the young wife, Mona; but it is in fact the husband, Bernard, who has insisted on having her with them….
His love of Eileen is similar in its passionate asexuality to [his] previous love of God; and in confessing it to her and so approaching too near to her, he fears that, as in the case of his faith in God,...
(The entire section is 680 words.)
Brian Moore writes an unfashionably pellucid prose so bare of intensifying metaphor that a simple sentence like "The rain wept in front of her" leaps from the page as though it were a bizarre metaphysical conceit. Ironically enough, I read The Temptation of Eileen Hughes in tandem with Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers, a supremely grandiose account of the terrible temptations—both terrestrial and spiritual—battering fallen man, in which a sentence like "The rain wept in front of her" would only be a drop in the deluge of metaphorical expression engulfing each page. Yet one doesn't really need the experience of reading clotted Burgess to be aware of the thin gruel of Moore; nor is it simply a question on my part of indulging a predilection for the knotty over the spare to say how much less there is of Moore in this particular instance than of Burgess. I say "in this particular instance" for, had I been reading an earlier, even sparer novel by Moore, Catholics, in tandem with Earthly Powers, the contrast might well have worked in Moore's favour: in Catholics, the beautiful simplicity of Moore's style, so precisely the right vehicle for the simple gravity of the book's conflict, might well have worked to have made even more noticeable the strain of floridness in Earthly Powers' excess.
There is absolutely nothing florid about The Temptation of Eileen Hughes. But built like...
(The entire section is 930 words.)
[In Cold Heaven, Brian Moore] quickly has his readers on the edge of their seats. A young doctor, Alex Davenport, and his wife, Marie, spend a brief holiday in Nice, France. While he is swimming in the Bay of Angels, a powerboat runs over him as his wife watches in horror from a paddle boat. She had intended to announce to Alex that day that she was going to leave him for another man; instead, the day ends with the announcement that a skull fracture and a severe concussion have killed the brilliant but selfish pathologist. The next day, however, the straightforward tragedy takes a bizarre turn that will keep reading lights ablaze until dawn. Marie, arriving at the hospital to make the necessary arrangements, is informed that her husband's body has disappeared from the morgue. The bewildered doctors have no explanation. Returning to her hotel room, she discovers that her husband's wallet, his passport, his traveller's cheques and airline ticket have also disappeared. Her belongings have not been touched.
Once the initial mystery has been established, everything that follows becomes a source of suspicion and fear. There are hints that Alex's research has something to do with his unlikely disappearance. Marie suspects that she is being punished by a wrathful God for her infidelity, and—predictably enough for those familiar with Moore's obsession with Catholicism—it is around that suspicion that the mystery of Cold Heaven...
(The entire section is 389 words.)
Moore's interests, even in his comic mood, have always tended toward the dark side of human events—terrible temptations, for example, that force a character's will to the edge of a cliff. In earlier novels, he has dealt directly with the surreal and the supernatural—in The Great Victorian Collection, a young man awakens in a California motel to find that he has dreamed into existence a huge assortment of Victorian objets d'art, and in Fergus, the Irish-born writer of the title must confront a motley gang of ghosts from his past—but in most of Brian Moore's writing, one is always aware of larger, and darker, worlds lurking just out of view.
In Cold Heaven, the world of the supernatural arrives in a burst of brilliant light that dazzles—and awes and frightens—the readers as well as the characters. (p. 3)
Cold Heaven is that most desirable sort of novel, one that keeps your hands taut on the book and your breath held tight in your chest. At the same time, the entertainment is of a very high order, filled with ideas given powerful dramatic form. Moore's intense exploration of Marie Davenport's dilemma (one of faith and conscience as well as survival and sanity), crystallizes the plight of an ordinary, modern person—a sinner, as it were—faced with extraordinary events, specifically, a miracle. If you or I were suddenly, and unwillingly, vouchsafed a glimpse of the Blessed...
(The entire section is 379 words.)
Brian Moore established his reputation with his first novel, "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne," in 1956. The Irish setting gave a special poignancy to this portrait of a sad middle-class spinster resolutely slipping into emotional destitution. Subsequent novels have revealed the author's continuing willingness to pay attention to the dreary and unloved, the lapsed and fallible who would rather have some immediate human affection than wait for God's promised kingdom….
["Cold Heaven"] begins in Nice, with a quick and violent boating accident in the Baie des Anges. While Dr. Alex Davenport is swimming, a motor boat crashes into him and leaves him close to death. His wife, Marie, is distraught over the accident and its ironic timing: She had been planning to tell him that day that she intended to leave him for another physician…. (p. 11)
Gradually it becomes clear to the reader that Marie has imagined a complex quid pro quo in which Alex's survival depends on her cooperation with "them," and that the paranoid "they" refers to her enemy—God.
Marie is a lapsed Roman Catholic who sees herself as an "unbelieving adulteress." Why, then, did a vision of the Virgin Mary appear to her a year ago on a rocky headland at Carmel, instructing her that the rock must be a place of pilgrimage and that she must tell the priests about it?… To what end do "they" continue to send the signs and portents that lead...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
"We have before us the modern mind, intelligent, skeptical, ironical, splendidly trained for the great game of pretending that the world it comprehends in sterilized sobriety is the only and ultimate reality there is—yet a mind living in sin with the soul of Abraham." The German critic Erich Heller wrote those words with reference to Kafka, whose fiction shows both the necessity and the impossibility of religious faith, but they could also be applied to Brian Moore. In Cold Heaven, as in Catholics, as in The Mangan Inheritance, he takes seriously ideas and intuitions that we skeptical, ironical moderns are supposed to have passed beyond. He uses his intelligence to subvert our limited awareness of intelligence. (p. 15)
Moore is unafraid to use the devices and modes of a thriller in a novel intended as "serious" art. He is, after all, a former screenplay-writer for Alfred Hitchcock.
One of the difficulties that many novelists face when arranging their plots is that of coincidence; incompetent writers (and, occasionally, Dickens) make us worry that their strange collection of events could never just have happened to occur that way. Brian Moore defies coincidence by denying coincidence; in the world of Cold Heaven, nothing is accidental. A bolt of lightning, a repeated dream, the lyrics of an old song, a fat man exercising his poodles near the sea—everything carries a secret...
(The entire section is 825 words.)
The dust-jacket of Cold Heaven … claims that it shows [Moore] "at the very height of his powers." The sad truth is quite otherwise. In Moore's last four novels there has been a falling off in quality, freshness and bite so marked as to suggest that the sixty-two year old novelist is now past his peak. The Mangan Inheritance (1979) did have its strong points, including a striking evocation of place. But The Doctor's Wife (1976) and The Temptation of Eileen Hughes (1981) were slick romantic melodramas centring on adulterous passion, containing a spurious religious overlay, and littered with the tourist-eye detail of hotels, restaurants and airports. So is Cold Heaven. It is true that the religious element in the novel is more pronounced and involves apparitional effects that recall Fergus (1970) and The Great Victorian Collection (1975), two of Moore's most impressive fictions. But the more one ponders the comparison the more the thinness, even factitiousness, of Cold Heaven becomes apparent. (p. 32)
What more than anything else makes Cold Heaven so disappointing is that Moore has little imaginative or fictive interest in Marie's apparition. Her sketchy characterization includes not a shred of evidence to suggest why she might have experienced this vision. Perhaps it is simply because God moves in mysterious ways. Certainly the evidence in the text leads to this...
(The entire section is 634 words.)
Brian Moore's Cold Heaven proves that a novel can be magnificent even while its central idea remains incredible….
The book is magnificent in a technical sense: the writing (as always with Moore) is beautifully clear; the handling of suspense is masterly; motifs of blue sky and mist, lightning and thunder, serve succinctly both as thriller-like cues and as central poetic symbols. There is lightish relief—such as the worldly Monsignor ('God's golfer') who signs off with his 'Have a nice day'—but this is still vital to the plot. And the pattern of ideas is tight-knit and ambitious without being overbearing: religion and common sense; miracle and medical science; God's commands and free will; marriage and adultery.
The novel remains incredible, to this reader, because Moore—or at least his text—does seem to endorse the supernatural version of the events within it; no room for a non-supernatural version is really left. But even those who are resistant to, or just plain sceptical about apparitions and miracles will find it utterly engrossing reading.
Richard Deveson, "Death-Traps," in New Statesman, Vol. 106, No. 2749, November 25, 1983, p. 28.∗
(The entire section is 183 words.)
Michael Paul Gallagher
It is nearly thirty years since Brian Moore's first novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, proved that here was a significantly new voice in Irish fiction. Of that book Moore has told us that he wanted to explore his own religious unbelief but, preferring to project it away from autobiography, he did so through the question: what if one of my mother's sodality friends were to lose the faith? [In Cold Heaven] he is still supremely at home with a feminine consciousness at the centre and he is still weaving dramas of crisis on the flux of belief and unbelief. But this time the temptation has altered in direction: we are now given a totally secular woman being disturbed by evidences of the supernatural. (pp. 131-32)
Ever since the apparitions of Fergus, Moore has allowed himself a certain obsession with the ghostly. The Great Victorian Collection concerned a "secular miracle", but here he pushes into the further region of a religious miracle. His central question would seem to be whether a miracle can force a person into faith. The official answer is given by Father Niles, the somewhat snoopy journalist who specialises in such matters: miracles are "only signs which solicit belief", never a sign which "compels assent". The psychological drama of the novel would seem to validate this distinction, and indeed to rely upon it. Marie undergoes considerable soliciting but ultimately, like many a previous...
(The entire section is 971 words.)