Brian Moore 1921–
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms Bernard Mara and Michael Bryan) Irish-born Canadian and American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and scriptwriter.
The following entry provides an overview of Moore's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 19, and 32.
Moore is a prolific novelist who uses traditional narrative structures and an unadorned, straightforward prose style to examine what he calls defining "moments of crisis" in his protagonists' lives. Praised for absorbing plots, insightful characterization, and the skillful evocation of time and place, Moore's works often reflect his Roman Catholic background and investigate spiritual, psychological, and social issues. Lawrence Seanlan has written that Moore "has shown wonderful range … and asked important questions—of faith and passion, of ambition and solitude, of the writer's place in society."
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Moore was raised in a strict, religious household. Although he attended Catholic schools, he rejected his family's Catholicism and left school at the outbreak of World War II. After serving with the British Ministry of War Transit in North Africa, Italy, and France, Moore emigrated to Canada in 1948, living intermittently in Thessalon, Toronto, and Montreal. To support himself in Canada, he began writing—reporting for a Montreal newspaper, publishing several pulp novels, and selling short stories. Moore won literary acclaim with the publication of his first major novel, Judith Hearne, in 1955, and since then has steadily produced new works. Retaining his Canadian citizenship, Moore eventually moved to New York City and then to Malibu, California.
Moore's early novels often draw upon his observations of society and religion in his native Belfast, as well as his experiences in Europe and Canada during the first years after he emigrated. Examining such psychological themes as self-awareness, delusion, and repression, he frequently explores the emotional effects of estrangement from community in his writings. For example, Judith Hearne, the eponymous heroine of Moore's first major novel, is an isolated Belfast spinster who finds solace in imagination and in alcohol. The Feast of Lupercal (1957) is also set in Belfast and focuses on Diarmuid Devine, a middle-aged virgin who dreams of love but does not allow himself to become involved with women. Moore also explores the emo-tional consequences of alienation in subsequent novels that portray Irish émigrés struggling to negotiate the cultural differences between Ireland and their adopted countries. The Luck of Ginger Coffey, published in 1960, depicts the title character's struggle to earn a living and win social acceptance after transplanting his family to Montreal. In An Answer from Limbo (1962) an Irish-American magazine writer named Brendan Tierney decides to publish a novel, summoning his elderly mother from Ireland to care for his children while he works. The novel delineates the conflicts that arise between the fully assimilated and secularized Tierney, his American wife, and his traditional, staunchly Catholic mother. Further exploring the tension inherent in religious change, Catholics (1972) focuses on an insular monastic community considered heretical because its commitment to traditional Roman Catholic dogma is at odds with the greater social orientation of the contemporary Catholic Church.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Moore also wrote several novels in which characters become painfully uncertain about their identities under changing circumstances. I Am Mary Dunne (1968) depicts a young woman who has been married three times, lived in Nova Scotia, Montreal, and New York, and rejected her childhood Catholicism. Over the course of several days she contemplates the changes that have occurred in her life and becomes shaken in her sense of self-identity. Sheila Redden, the main character in The Doctor's Wife (1976), leaves Ireland for France, where she enters into a passionate, adulterous affair with a younger man. 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. In several works Moore compounds the ambiguities of identity by introducing supernatural events. In Fergus (1970), he represents the Irish memories that torment an émigré living in California as actual ghosts. The Great Victorian Collection (1975) demonstrates the difficulty of distinguishing between appearance and reality when a young historian awakens one morning to find the parking lot adjacent to his motel filled with the Victorian artifacts of the previous night's dream. Cold Heaven (1983) concerns a woman who witnesses her husband's death in a boating accident. The next day his body and personal effects disappear, suggesting that he has returned to life. Moore investigates spiritual themes and guilt as the woman attempts to interpret these events in light of both her religious convictions and her marital infidelity.
Moore's most recent works reflect a commitment to investigating the relationship between individual moral choices and their political and religious contexts. Black Robe (1985) traces the journey of Father Paul Laforgue, a seventeenth-century Jesuit, and the Native Americans who guide him from Quebec to a Huron settlement in western Canada. While the Indians do not resent Laforgue's efforts to convert them to Christianity, they are not eager to change their beliefs or behaviors. The Color of Blood (1987) is set in an unnamed Eastern European country where Cardinal Stephen Bem struggles with the ambiguous relationship between his Church and the country's totalitarian government. Lies of Silence, published three years later, is set in Northern Ireland and concerns a Belfast hotel manager, Michael Dillon, who must decide whether or not he will help the Irish Republican Army bomb his own hotel—if he complies, he will save his wife, whom IRA terrorists hold hostage; if he defies them, they will execute her. Complicating the moral and ethical implications of his choice are Dillon's plans to leave his wife for the BBC reporter with whom he has been having an affair. No Other Life (1993) portrays the relationship between Jeannot, a young, black messianic priest who espouses a politically active brand of religious vocation, and Father Paul Michel, the elderly white priest who mentors him. Narrated by Father Michel, the novel is set in a country reminiscent of Haiti, and Jeannot has often been compared to Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Judith Hearne brought Moore international attention, and some critics have characterized it as the best novel to emerge from Northern Ireland. The novel remains the most popular and acclaimed of Moore's early works, all of whose protagonists, Murray Prosky notes, "create dream kingdoms to defend themselves against their fear that life has somehow passed them by." John Cronin, observing that anxiety and delusions also characterize Moore's exiled protagonists, considers him "the prose laureate of human mediocrity and embarrassment." Yet John Frayne believes that Moore's affinity for failures expresses a dour view of human potential, which has led several scholars to liken Moore to English poet Philip Larkin. Although the protagonists of Moore's most recent novels are generally stronger and more decisive, these works have received mixed reviews, with some critics faulting them for their reliance on thriller conventions and pacing at the expense of character development. However, most commentators laud Moore's ability to sustain narrative tension in these works and praise the detailed descriptions of diverse cultures in Black Robe, The Color of Blood, and No Other Life. Widely-read in Great Britain and Canada, Moore's readership has recently increased in the United States. A prominent figure in contemporary literature, Moore is respected for his skill in representing female characters, for his portraits of personal crises suffered by alienated individuals, and for his investigations of moral dilemmas that reflect and influence larger religious and political contexts.