No Other Life (Magill Book Reviews)
In NO OTHER LIFE, his eighteenth novel, Brian Moore again reveals his penchant for plots which unobtrusively combine thriller elements with more profound moral and religious questions. Set on the imaginary Caribbean island of Ganae, the novel tells of a rural scholarship boy, Jean-Paul Cantave, or Jeannot, as he is called throughout. Rescued from a life of penury and oppression, he is educated for the priesthood and eventually becomes president of Ganae. The story of Jeannot is told by his mentor, a French Canadian missionary, Father Michel.
It is typical of Moore’s economical method that the use of the hero’s nickname serves as an expression both of the intimacy between Father Michel and his former pupil and of Jeannot’s links with the people whose ruler he becomes. The name becomes a constant reminder of the various conflicts which the priest and president must face: between the public man and the private one, between the political activist and the man of peace, and between the man of the people and the just ruler. Jeannot’s negotiation of these conflicts at once makes him a memorable character and the leader of a vulnerable regime.
The similarity of Ganae to Haiti, in language, terrain, and recent political turbulence reinforces the reader’s appreciation of Jeannot’s essentially Christian striving for peace and justice. Moore’s deft exploration of whether Jeannot’s obligations are to man or to God, hinted at in the novel’s title, supplements the novel’s action with a sense of the enigmatic nature of purpose and duty.
Sources for Further Study
Books in Canada. XXII, May, 1993, p.44.
Chicago Tribune. September 19, 1993, XIV, p.6.
The Christian Science Monitor. December 14, 1993, p.15.
Library Journal. CXVIII, August, 1993, p.154.
London Review of Books. XV, April 8, 1993, p.15.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 19, 1993, p.3.
New Statesman and Society. VI, February 19, 1993, p.41.
The New York Review of Books. XL, October 21, 1993, p.3.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, September 12, 1993, p.1
Publishers Weekly. CCXL, June 21, 1993, p.82.
The Times Literary Supplement. February 19, 1993, p.22.
No Other Life (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In No Other Life, his eighteenth novel, Brian Moore continues his treatment of themes and contexts first introduced in The Color of Blood (1987) and revisited in Lies of Silence (1990). Readers familiar with Moore’s work will not find the themes of these works unfamiliar. Their preoccupation with the substance and adequacy of their protagonists’ inner life, particularly at periods of development or transition, has been a mainstay of this author’s fiction since the beginning of his career. The difference in his later work is the translation of these preoccupations into unfamiliar, international contexts. In both The Color of Blood and No Other Life Moore invents countries for whose characteristics he draws freely on contemporary news stories. The national setting of The Color of Blood was modeled on the Poland of the early 1980’s. A Caribbean island named Ganae, with a distinctive Francophone language and culture and with a close resemblance to Haiti, provides the backdrop for Moore’s concerns in No Other Life. It may be thought that by setting Lies of Silence in his native Northern Ireland Moore was not pursuing the emphases introduced in The Color of Blood. The Belfast of Lies of Silence, however, proved to be as alien as any context the author could invent. The reversal of readers’ expectations in this depiction of Belfast effectively underscored Moore’s lack of interest in context for its own sake and his preference for probing the elusive human elements that make up his protagonists.
These elements are emotional and psychological in origin. Their identity economically reveals the protagonists’ common humanity. These characters’ hopes, fears, vanity, and courage form the centers of narrative interest and thereby attract the reader’s attention to such matters as the nature of the moral life and the negotiability of virtue under contemporary historical conditions. The development of Moore’s imaginative commitment to such weighty concerns has meant that his work has been compared with increasing frequency with that of Graham Greene. One of the hallmarks of Moore’s approach to his material, however, is the ease and deftness with which the abstractions are woven into the action. The result is a curious hybrid that might be labeled the metaphysical thriller.
The deftness of Moore’s narrative touch in No Other Life and the rapid development of the career of his protagonist, Father Jean-Paul Cantave, known to all by the loving diminutive “Jeannot,” should not be allowed to disguise the fact that this is the broadest canvas that the author has attempted to paint. By locating the novel on an island that resembles Haiti not only in its linguistic and cultural makeup but also in its recent political history, Moore immediately introduces issues of race and class. Within the society of Ganae, race is class, a social circumstance from which the pretext of many of the ostensible conflicts arises. The oppressive differentiation of the island’s mulatto population from their black fellow citizens is one of the primary political motives for Jeannot’s revolutionary activities. The mulattos identify themselves in terms of metropolitan manners and economic self- aggrandizement. As a result, the black population is identified with rural Ganae, with urban poverty, and with a simple belief that Jeannot is their messiah. The faith that the black Ganaeans who constitute the majority population have in the possibility of deliverance from their state of economic and social vulnerability is spontaneous and direct, in contrast not only with the distorted political intelligence of the ruling clique but also with the complex institutional outlook of the island’s Catholic hierarchy.
These racial and class concerns also possess a more than local relevance. The ruling class’s interests are allied with a variety of international power-bases, including those of American investment, Parisian cultural styles, numbered Swiss bank accounts, and drug-smuggling. In keeping with the novel’s skeletal approach, none of the political elite’s international affiliations are developed. On the other hand, it is clear from the limited encounters that are provided with members of the elite that the affiliations in question constitute a network whose ultimate effect is the continued oppression and exploitation of the Ganean people. This effect is what Jeannot is dedicated to eliminating.
It may be noted in passing that although Ganae is unmistakably based on Haiti, there is no mention of religions other than Catholicism. This focus is partly the result of the fact that the narrative has been entrusted to a Catholic priest, Father Paul Michel. It was he who brought Jeannot from his...
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