Moore, Brian (Vol. 1)

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Moore, Brian 1921–

An Irish-born Canadian novelist now living in New York, Moore is the author of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, and The Emperor of Ice-Cream. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

With The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and The Feast of Lupercal, Moore was apparently doing what so many Irish writers have done: left Ireland to write about it; but with The Luck of Ginger Coffey and An Answer from Limbo Moore appeared to be turning his attention to the North American scene, as he had earlier predicted in his public statements.

But with his fifth novel, The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965), Moore in a sense has confounded the critics, for with it he returns to Belfast for his setting, and he has written one of his finest novels to date. Though it lacks some of the poignancy of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and some of the comic sadness of The Luck of Ginger Coffey, usually considered his two best novels, it significantly marks a departure from all of his earlier works in two important ways: the hero is youthful and he is triumphant. Moore had previously chosen for his central figures people in their late thirties or early forties who were failures of one sort or another, and had been failures for some time. In his first four novels, Moore exploited the constituents of failure so skillfully and sensitively that the characters achieve much more stature than many triumphant heroes or less gifted writers. But with none of these earlier characters do we sense the likelihood of any lasting triumph over their limitations or obstacles….

In a sense,… The Emperor of Ice-Cream can be regarded as a culmination of Moore's concern with despair and failure, and it could mark the beginning of a new trend in his fiction. In choosing Belfast again as his setting, he is returning to the scene and materials he knows most intimately, and in selecting a youthful protagonist, he is able to examine the components or prerequisites of failure before the individual is irrevocably headed toward defeat.

Hallvard Dahlie, "Brian Moore's Broader Vision: The Emperor of Ice-Cream," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. IX, No. 1, 1966, pp. 43-55.

On one level The Emperor of Ice Cream works as a document: it is shaped by a knowledge of the impact of the Second World War on two generations in Belfast, and incorporates a solid fabric of factual detail. Gavin and his father are representative figures; they voice twin moods of a period, and the dialogue between parent and child belongs as much to the history of the times as it does to the internal crises of a family.

While a sense of history controls the broad outlines of the story, the powers of memory and speculation dictate the intricate time-scheme of the narrative.

Jonathan Raban, in his The Technique of Modern Fiction, Edward Arnold, 1968, p. 65.

Moore's fiction strikes me as interesting and refreshing precisely because it does not focus upon an essentially twentieth-century predicament. The dilemma faced by Moore's important characters—with few exceptions—is in fact a primitive rather than modern dilemma. It is created by the characters' exclusion from the community and their subsequent occupation of a ritual limbo through which they seek to pass as quickly and as successfully as possible. Though Moore occasionally diverges from this theme—most notably in An Answer from Limbo—each of his novels remains to greater or lesser degree a variation of it, but a variation that contributes to the pattern of the total canon….

Ritual failure I define as the inability to perform the rites of passage on the way to self-fulfillment within one's own group. This theme extends with variation into the North American novels, but later gives way to the cognate theme of ritual displacement which Moore exploits most fully in I Am Mary Dunne. Ritual displacement occurs when the individual is unwilling or unable to perform the rites of incorporation into a new society and thereby find happiness and fulfillment….

The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Moore's third novel, balances the two themes of ritual failure and displacement and is thus a pivotal work in the development of Moore's thematic concerns….

It is tempting to view Moore's North American fiction as more optimistic than his earlier Belfast fiction. The shift from parochial to cosmopolitan settings and from the burden-some piety of the chief Belfast characters to Mary Dunne's practical morality would seem to represent a movement from bondage to emancipation. It is almost as if Moore's novels trace the growing fortunes in a new continent of one hypothetical immigrant who has escaped Belfast's lower middle-class tedium. In accordance with this view, we might also see the characters of the North American novels as less constrained by ritual forces and community dogmas, making a ritualistic reading of the novels less pertinent.

John Wilson Foster, "Passage Through Limbo: Brian Moore's North American Novels," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XIII, No. 1, 1971, pp. 5-18.

[In] Fergus as in Moore's other novels that I've looked into … there is a wonderful clearsightedness, a complete absence of vanity and spite. Yet the novel as a whole is not as impressive as one wants it to be. Perhaps this is because the confrontations don't seem to get anywhere—except that they peak for a moment in Fergus's clearer knowledge that he must accept responsibility for his own life and cannot found his faith merely upon a rejection of his parents'. Somehow the book lacks resonance, lacks a certain generalizing power by virtue of its very modesty.

David J. Gordon, in Yale Review (© 1971 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Spring, 1971, p. 431.

The adjectives to describe Moore's novels slip off the tongue with a kind of glib inevitability. They are the works of one of the few impeccable stylists we have left among us, and even in their tone—if we do not have the extraordinary plot of Fergus to convince us of the fact—they represent a sensitivity that responds acutely to the present but is not of it. Brian Moore, in fact is the last—perhaps the very last—of the tradition of fine Irish writers of English prose and, like so many of his predecessors, he lives as a physical exile from the land which mentally he cannot leave….

Perhaps [Fergus] is Brian Moore's last farewell to his own Irish ghosts. Perhaps it is something quite different. The speculation is as fruitless as it is to wonder what is the real meaning of, say, Kafka's Amerika. It is the inner conviction of the vision that matters, and in all its literal absurdity, Fergus's nightmare is never less than convincing. The novel that bears his name is a masterpiece of the best kind of fantasy—that which succeeds because it presents impossible happenings with impeccable verisimilitude.

George Woodcock, "A Matter of Loyalty," in Canadian Literature, Summer, 1971, pp. 81-3.


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