Brian Moore Moore, Brian (Vol. 3) - Essay

Moore, Brian (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Moore, Brian 1921–

An Irish-born Canadian novelist now residing in California, Moore writes novels that are traditional in form and often richly humorous. He is the author of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearn, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, and Catholics. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Something of the old horror of Moore's first novel, Judith Hearne, is present in … Fergus. What she endured on the level of the unsophisticated loser, his new hero—a writer named Fergus Fadden—experiences on the level of the knowing professional.

Fergus is an Irish-born novelist and screenwriter, divorced, who lives in Los Angeles with a girl a generation younger than himself. One day his long-dead father suddenly appears in his living room. Almost immediately, other relatives start turning up—mother, aunt, sister—as well as various friends and acquaintances. They accuse Fergus of the sin that eats at his guts: betrayal. They insist he's betrayed his church, his family, his profession; and Fergus, while frantically defending himself, seems to suspect that what they are saying is true….

Moore seems intentionally to make Fergus' present life insubstantial, almost unreal. What is real are the apparitions; Fergus' genuine reality is in the past. This is where, in this troubling and memorable novel, he relates to Judith: he is still young, but in an important sense life for him is over.

Robert Fulford, "Moore on Betrayal," in Saturday Night, November, 1970, p. 51.

Fergus is Brian Moore's most unusual novel, out of true with his other books in the anxiety it brings us about suspending our disbelief. Yet that anxiety is part of the dilemma of Fergus himself and Brian Moore is too good a writer to squander the possibilities to be gained from such a twin yoking. Author and novelist-hero proceed in Siamese fashion.

There is enough in this book to remind us of the great talent this writer has for that exact description of common feelings which both individualizes the character and generalizes the experience….

There are rich pickings in all Brian Moore's novels but there have also been passages of disappointment; as often here….

First, Brian Moore can still stick in a pin and hit the nerve of a relationship…. Second, he has lost none of the facility for sizzling character-sketches which decorate all his books….

[Though] Fergus is in a great dilemma, there is no feeling of distress. The very substantial nature of these eating, drinking, smoking ghosts permits no apprehension in the reader and little enough is truly felt by the object of their visits. For Fergus, as well, is more interested than disturbed—and yet without that feeling of heeby-jeebies, the novel fails….

There is some evidence that the book (The Seventh Novel) is meant to contain all the other books—Fergus has been to the same school as Devine in The Feast of Lupercal; the Una in that book is about the same age as the Dani in this; there is another Una in Judith Hearne; the structure is the same as in Mary Dunne, and so on. But this, too, is unsatisfactory—the resonances are too faint. Again, among these ghosts there is talk of the Holy Ghost.

"How to Get On With Your Ghosts," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), April 9, 1971, p. 413.

[With The Revolution Script] Moore has attempted one of the most difficult forms of writing, the reportage in which gaps in direct knowledge are filled with invented dialogue and even invented action. He has not been able entirely to avoid the perils of this hybird genre. When he is describing settings—and especially the seedy areas in Montreal in which so much of the action takes place—he writes vividly and evocatively. When he reconstructs action, he is almost invariably convincing. The coating of verisimilitude, however, begins to wear thin when he tries to create dialogue between the terrorists. The Revolution Script reads then as if it were written, not by Brian Moore the novelist, but by by some rather clumsy imitator of Roch Carrier, and the terrorists shape themselves in our minds as incredibly ignorant, naïf and pathetic, which I am sure is not Moore's intention.

George Woodcock, "Canada's October Days," in Canadian Literature, Winter, 1972, p. 74.

A spare, concentrated fable about the destruction of religious faith, Catholics has little in common with Brian Moore's earlier novels—except, perhaps, in its severity and sadness. The story, set in the near future, moves with the undeviating assurance of a Waugh satire, but without any attempt at humour. Father Kinsella, an American emissary from Rome, lands by helicopter upon the remote island of Muck, to enforce modern "ecumenical" practices upon a disobedient community of Irish monks….

The story is told in an objective style. That is, there is no clue to whether the author believes in the miracle of the Mass or, indeed, in God. He does not seem to be offering support to the disobedient monks or to their superiors, but rather to be issuing a speculative prophecy about the possible results of reformation in the Roman Church. We cannot tell whether he has any experience of the spiritual dryness suffered by his Abbot, or whether he has got it from other books. He stands at such a distance from his characters that we admire his guesswork about their mental processes, rather than applaud his insights. Conclusions about the seriousness of this neat and striking story will be determined by the reader's own beliefs and experience.

"Mass Minority," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), November 10, 1972, p. 1357.

Brian Moore's Catholics is … very short—all inessentials have been pared away: the story is told without any authorial intervention. Yet there is no sense of the reader being cheated: he has to think for himself, make his own judgements; he has to read the novel as carefully as Moore has written it. Grave implications lie beneath the controlled surface.

Paul Bailey, in London Magazine, February/March, 1973, pp. 157-58.

Mr. Moore has been justly praised for his novels of life in America and his native Ireland, "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne," "The Feast of Lupercal" and others, and most recently "The Revolution Script." They are large books and contain multitudes of voices, often switching from third-person to first-person narration, and back again. His theme is frequently breakdown—of a mind, a personality, a marriage. As a transplanted writer he has flourished and written knowledgeably and well about America.

In "Catholics" his writing is unexpectedly spare, even if it is not always precise. His subject is Catholicism, but that is not new for him—"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" describes a Catholic boyhood. But here the concern is more liturgical; his characters are priests—revisionists, hard-liners and progressives—and while the whole affair seems real enough one can't help feeling it is a trifling matter….

The fault might be in the size of the story, which is very small indeed, barely novella-length and hardly allowing us a glimpse of the priests as men. On the other hand, J. F. Powers has created tremendously believable priests in a single paragraph—so length is not the only consideration….

It doesn't help that the landscape resembles Beckett's—the Beckett landscape is no landscape at all, simply an airless, treeless expanse of wasted effort. Occasionally, Mr. Moore's style tries unsuccessfully to create suspense…. But there is no confrontation, and one might add that, even if there was, the conflict over expressions of Catholic faith—or Moslem or Buddhist for that matter—seems of relatively minor importance, unless one happened to feel, as I do not, that it makes the difference between heaven or hell.

Paul Theroux, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 18, 1973, p. 39.

[Catholics is] Moore's brief, immensely concentrated and suggestive, affectively remote and austerely beautiful novel, the finest piece of work that this very talented writer has published to date….

[It] seems that a powerful tendency in Irish art is toward the minimalist and deeply restrained. Your typical Irishman makes the noise we all know about just so that you will never notice his inner silence, his at-oneness with stones and standing, bog-colored pools. By bringing his fictional art in line with this permanent aspect of the Irish condition, Brian Moore—whose clever handling of typical contemporary problems made him one of a crowd of novelists of middle rank—has come home to himself and to his most sincere creative instincts. There has been a hiatus in Irish imaginative writing since the death of Patrick Kavanaugh which Moore, well traveled in England, Canada and the States, in this subtle, heartbroken book, has put himself in a position to repair.

Julian Moynahan, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), April 8, 1973, pp. 4-5.