Brian Moore Moore, Brian (Vol. 32) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Val Clery

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 homeland, the costive, sad enclave of Northern Ireland. The three most intimately portrayed characters are...

(The entire section is 642 words.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 sickened.


(The entire section is 612 words.)

Peter S. Prescott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 and Eileen's thoughts. Moore's prose has always been deceptively simple, never more so than here, yet it accommodates the most complex effects: the scene, for instance, in which Mona's promiscuity is revealed, is done entirely in pantomime, as seen from a distance by Eileen. Poor Eileen: in life, she wouldn't hold our interest for a moment, but such is Moore's art that we are made to care for her—and care what happens to her. (p. 64)

Peter S. Prescott, "Irish Stew," in Newsweek, Vol. XCVIII, No. 2, July 20, 1981, pp. 63, 65.

Joyce Carol Oates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 believe in God, any God. But the new novel is so sketchy, anemic and hurried that one is led to wonder what has gone amiss. For not only is character largely unexplored here—and humor absent—but Mr. Moore tells his story in so perfunctory a manner that it is as if he is merely going through the motions of a narrative this time.

The most engaging character in "The Temptation of Eileen Hughes" is the besotted lover Bernard McAuley, who has deluded himself into believing that he has fallen in love with 20-year-old Eileen Hughes, a Roman Catholic who gives the impression less of being repressed than of simply having no personality….

A "failed priest," Bernard succumbs to Eileen's subdued...

(The entire section is 896 words.)

Francis King

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Michael Taylor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 930 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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...

(The entire section is 389 words.)

Alan Ryan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 379 words.)

Frances Taliaferro

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 entire section is 495 words.)

Mark Abley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"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...

(The entire section is 825 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 entire section is 634 words.)

Richard Deveson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Michael Paul Gallagher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 971 words.)