Brian Moore Moore, Brian (Vol. 90) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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."

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Executioners (novel) 1951
Wreath for a Redhead (novel) 1951
French for Murder [as Bernard Mara] (novel) 1954
Bullet for My Lady [as Bernard Mara] (novel) 1955
Judith Hearne (novel) 1955; also published as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, 1955
Intent to Kill [as Michael Bryan] (novel) 1956
This Gun for Gloria [as Michael Bryan] (novel) 1956
The Feast of Lupercal (novel) 1957; also published as A Moment of Love, 1965
Murder in Majorca [as Michael Bryan] (novel) 1957
The Luck of Ginger Coffey (novel) 1960
An Answer from Limbo (novel) 1962
The Luck of Ginger Coffey (screenplay) 1964
The Emperor of Ice-Cream (novel) 1965
Torn Curtain (screenplay) 1966
I Am Mary Dunne (novel) 1968
Fergus (novel) 1970
The Revolution Script (novel) 1971
Catholics (novel) 1972
Catholics (teleplay) 1973
The Great Victorian Collection (novel) 1975
The Doctor's Wife (novel) 1976
The Mangan Inheritance (novel) 1979
Two Stories (novellas) 1979
The Temptation of Eileen Hughes (novel) 1981
Cold Heaven (novel) 1983
§The Blood of Others [based on the novel Le sang des autres by Simone de Beauvoir] (screenplay) 1984
Black Robe (novel) 1985
The Color of Blood (novel) 1987
Lies of Silence (novel) 1990
∗∗Black Robe (screenplay) 1991
No Other Life (novel) 1993

∗This film was directed by Irvin Kershner.

†This film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

‡This work contains Preliminary Pages for a Work of Revenge and Uncle T.

§This film was directed by Claude Chabrol.

∗∗This film was directed by Bruce Beresford.

John Wilson Foster (essay date 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Passage Through Limbo: Brian Moore's North American Novels," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XIII, No. 1, 1970, pp. 5-18.

[Foster is a Canadian critic and educator who has written extensively on Anglo-Irish literature. In the following essay, he examines the central characters in Moore's early novels who, after being expelled from their communities, attempt to gain admission into new social groups and struggle to maintain their identities.]

Critics have persisted in forging similarities between Moore and his compatriot-in-exile, James Joyce. Jack Ludwig, for instance, saw Moore in 1962 as Joyce's heir in the genealogy of Irish fiction ["Brian...

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John A. Scanlan (essay date Summer 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Artist-in-Exile: Brian Moore's North American Novels," in Eire-Ireland, Vol. XII, No. 2, Summer, 1977, pp. 14-33.

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Bruce Stovel (essay date Summer 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Brian Moore: The Realist's Progress," in English Studies in Canada, Vol. VII, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 183-200.

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Brian Moore with Bruce Meyer and Brian O'Riordan (interview date 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in In Their Words: Interviews with Fourteen Canadian Writers, Anansi, 1984, pp. 168-83.

[In the following interview, conducted in 1982 during the James Joyce Centenary in Toronto, Canada, Moore discusses the treatment of political and religious issues in his novels, and explains why he prefers straightforward narrative to experimental fiction.]

[Meyer and O'Riordan]: We live in an age where often there is more attention paid to a writer's life than is paid to his work. Has this been a problem for you?

[Moore]: There are people now reading biographies of W.H. Auden and Robert Lowell, who probably have read very little of...

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Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review date 25 March 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Black Robe, in The New York Times, March 25, 1985, p. C17.

[In the following review, Lehmann-Haupt praises Moore's characterizations, his "unadorned but evocative prose," and his depiction of spiritual conflict in Black Robe.]

As Brian Moore explains in an author's note that precedes the opening of his unusual new novel, Black Robe: "A few years ago, in Graham Greene's Collected Essays, I came upon his discussion of The Jesuits of North America, the celebrated work by the American historian Francis Parkman (1823–1893)."

A passage cited by Greene, about the extraordinary dedication of one particular...

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James Carroll (review date 31 March 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ordeal of Father Laforgue," in The New York Times Book Review, March 31, 1985, p. 7.

[An ex-Roman Catholic priest, Carroll is an American novelist, poet, nonfiction writer, and dramatist. In the following highly positive review of Black Robe, he argues that Moore encourages readers to recognize similarities between the seventeenth-century clash of cultures and ideologies represented in the novel and modern attempts "to divide the world into separate camps of good and evil."]

Black Robe is an extraordinary novel. Part adventure story, part the life of a saint, part parable, it is an exemplary act of imagination in which Brian Moore has brought...

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Gerald Lynch (review date Fall 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Blue Streaks," in Canadian Literature, No. 110, Fall, 1986, pp. 150-52.

[In the following review, Lynch criticizes what he considers the sparse prose and often-underdeveloped characters of Black Robe, but praises Moore for suggesting that the Jesuit missionaries were in some respects as "savage" as the Native Americans they attempted to "civilize."]

Black Robe is both an extension of and a departure from Moore's earlier work. It is an extension of explorations begun in earlier novels because it is concerned with a test of religious faith. It is a departure because its protagonist is a seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary in Canada, a man who...

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Kerry McSweeney (essay date Spring 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sorceries," in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 34, Spring, 1987, pp. 111-18.

[In the following essay on Black Robe, McSweeney asserts that Moore could have represented Father Laforgue's crisis of faith more effectively by using "a self-conscious, intrusive narrator," but praises the novelist for depicting both the Native Americans and the missionaries "in ways that sharpen the reader's attention and intensify his response to the text."]

"Few passages of history are more striking than those which record the efforts of the earlier French Jesuits to convert the Indians. Full as they are of dramatic and philosophic interest … it is wonderful that they...

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Anne-Marie Conway (review date 2-8 October 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Under the Red Robe," in The Times Literary Supplement, October 2-8, 1987, p. 1073.

[In the following positive review of The Color of Blood, Conway contends that, though character development suffers somewhat due to the demands of Moore's thriller format, the tautly paced novel nonetheless investigates "serious political and theological issues."]

Black Robe, Brian Moore's last novel, and his first attempt at a historical theme, was a masterly exploration of the cultural abyss between the North American Indians and the Jesuit missionaries come in the name of God to "civilize" them. In The Colour of Blood the Jesuits again feature prominently...

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Stefan Kanfer (review date 2 November 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Lost in Greeneland," in The New Republic, Vol. 197, No. 18, November 2, 1987, pp. 47-8.

[Kanfer is an American novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and journalist. In the following review, he asserts that characterization in The Color of Blood is superficial and that Moore rushes through issues which would have benefited from more extensive development.]

Graham Greene should have no trouble entering the kingdom of heaven. It is on earth that he has much to answer for. Every paperback page-turner whose cover proclaims the coming of a new Existential Thriller ("He carried the war home with him like an infection!"), every fictive burnout in...

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Neal Ascherson (review date 17 December 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Polish Nightmares," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXIV, No. 20, December 17, 1987, pp. 44, 46, 48.

[Ascherson is a Scottish-born English critic and journalist. In the following review, he praises Moore's astute, humane, and suspenseful depiction of Polish religious and political crises in The Color of Blood.]

The Color of Blood, Brian Moore's latest novel, was on the short list for the Booker Prize, the main British fiction award. Though widely admired, it did not take the prize; the murmur in London was that it was "slight." A strange reservation. The book is certainly brief, and has the pace and economical structure of a thriller. But it is...

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Michael Paul Gallagher, SJ (essay date Spring 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Religion as Favourite Metaphor: Moore's Recent Fiction," in Irish University Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 1988, pp. 50-8.

[In the following essay, Gallagher asserts that faith, both secular and religious, enables many of Moore's characters to survive crises.]

Searching for a language more honest than lying is the struggle of all spiritual life.

—Jean Sullivan

Although I'm not a religious writer, religion—the Catholic religion—has played a major role in many of my novels … I use religion as a metaphor.


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Hallvard Dahlie (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Brian Moore and the Meaning of Exile," in Medieval and Modern Ireland, edited by Richard Wall, Colin Smythe, 1988, pp. 91-107.

[Dahlie is a Canadian critic and educator who has written extensively on Moore's works. In the following essay, originally presented at the International Conference of the Canadian Association for Irish Studies in February 1985 and subsequently revised, he discusses Moore's portrayal of exile in several of his novels, short stories, and essays.]

Almost two thousand years ago, one of the earliest writers sent into exile complained that he was compelled 'to dwell at the edge of the world, a land far removed from [his] own', a place where...

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Jeanne A. Flood (essay date Winter 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Black Robe: Brian Moore's Appropriation of History," in Eire-Ireland, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Winter, 1990, pp. 40-55.

[Flood is an educator and critic. In the following essay on Black Robe, she criticizes Moore for misrepresenting Canadian Indians and the French Jesuit priests who attempted to "save" them. Flood also contends that Moore's strict reliance on the Jesuits' historical first-hand accounts both prevented him from fully utilizing his skills as a novelist and betrays his "oedipal" intentions to mock the Catholic Church.]

Brian Moore's fifteenth novel, Black Robe, begins with a prefatory note. In it Moore gives as the genesis of his...

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Seamus Deane (review date 20-26 April 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "In the Firing Line," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4542, April 20-26, 1990, p. 430.

[Deane is an Irish poet, essayist, critic, and educator. In the following negative review of Lies of Silence, he contends that, although there "are few better living novelists than Brian Moore," his representation of the crisis in Northern Ireland is stereotypical and inaccurate.]

There are few better living novelists than Brian Moore, but one would find little support for that statement in this book. Since the publication of Catholics in 1972, he has consistently found ways of bringing the secular world into collision with metaphysical or religious...

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Francine Prose (review date 2 September 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Reluctant Terrorist," in The New York Times Book Review, September 2, 1990, pp. 1, 23.

[Prose is an American novelist, short story writer, and educator. In the following excerpt, she commends the suspenseful plotting, austere prose, and "thematic weight" of Lies of Silence.]

Nothing cheers a writer so little as well-intentioned commiseration for not having attained the vast readership admirers think one deserves. And yet there are certain authors whose gifts so exceed their renown that their situation inevitably inspires this sort of unhelpful puzzlement and indignation.

One such writer is Brian Moore, whose 16th novel, Lies of...

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Richard Eder (review date 9 September 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Challenging the Acquiescence of Ulster," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 9, 1990, pp. 3, 10.

[Eder is an American critic and journalist. In the following review, he praises Moore's suspenseful plotting in Lies of Silence but contends that some of his characters are underdeveloped and serve merely as political mouthpieces.]

It is all there, perhaps too plainly there, in the title. Brian Moore has written an angry political novel that is also a novel of suspense. The suspense is intricately tangled in an impossible moral choice, faced by a Northern Irishman who struggles to resign from his country's conflict, and cannot.


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John Banville (review date 6 December 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "In Violent Times," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXVII, No. 19, December 6, 1990, pp. 22-5.

[Banville is an acclaimed Irish novelist, short story writer, and critic whose works include Long Lankin (1970), Mefisto (1986), and Ghosts (1993). In the following review, Banville offers a negative appraisal of Lies of Silence, asserting that the novel's thinly developed characters "are made to mouth extended disquisitions on the Northern Ireland troubles."]

Lies of Silence is, by my reckoning, Brian Moore's seventeenth novel. In the past he has produced some marvelous books—my own favorites are his first, the...

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Crystal Gromer (review date 11 January 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Land of Password," in Commonweal, Vol. CXVIII, No. 1, January 11, 1991, pp. 24-5.

[In the following review, Gromer criticizes Moore's use of "stick figures, stock figures" in Lies of Silence, which she considers a "tautly told" yet insubstantial thriller.]

"Whatever you say say nothing," the title of a poem in Seamus Heaney's 1975 volume North, could serve as apt epigraph for Brian Moore's new novel, Lies of Silence, which takes him—perhaps as reluctantly as his main character—back to Belfast, his birthplace.

For the lies that Moore sees raging in Ulster, "lies told over the years to poor Protestant working people...

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Hallvard Dahlie (review date Spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Held Hostage," in Canadian Literature, No. 132, Spring, 1992, pp. 184-86.

[In the following review, Dahlie praises the suspenseful plotting in Lies of Silence and commends Moore's insistence that individual moral choices produce social consequences.]

[Lies of Silence is] a masterful novel of suspense, in which individuals' moral crises are convincingly tied in with the social, political, and religious conflicts that have beset Ulster, seemingly forever. Moore has exploited these issues in many of his earlier works, but in Lies of Silence the protagonists do not merely suffer or endure these bigotries: they are forcibly conscripted into the...

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Terry Eagleton (review date 8 April 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Lapsing," in The London Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 7, April 8, 1993, p. 15.

[Eagleton is a prominent English critic, essayist, novelist, and playwright. Written from a Marxist perspective, his critical works include Exiles and Emigrés: Studies in Modern Literature (1970), Walter Benjamin; or, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (1981), and Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983). In the following review, he contends that No Other Life presents a formulaic view of third-world political dynamics.]

There are no ex-Catholics, only lapsed ones. A lapse, as the light little monosyllable suggests, is a mere temporary aberration, an...

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (review date 12 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Sword and the Saviour," in The New York Times Book Review, September 12, 1993, pp. 1, 34.

[Gates is an American critic and educator who has written extensively on African-American and third-world black literature. In the following highly positive review of No Other Life, he compares Moore's fictional Father Jeannot of Ganae to Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti and asserts that, by using a white narrator to provide a retrospective account of Jeannot's career, Moore allows his novel to be read "as an allegory of the relationship of the first world to the third."]

Political exile gives birth to its own mythology—tales of injustice and desire...

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William Weaver (review date 19 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "One Step Away From Fanaticism," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 19, 1993, pp. 3, 11.

[Weaver is an American critic, translator, and travel writer who has written extensively on music and the theater. In the following review, he praises the economical style and engaging pace of No Other Life.]

"Only one step separates fanaticism from barbarism." In his new and disturbing novel Brian Moore quotes this line of Diderot and later, to underline its importance, he repeats the quotation. In fact, the pensée does illuminate a large part of the story, but—as the story further reminds—there is also only one step between saintly devotion and...

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William Trevor (review date 21 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Lives of the Saints," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XL, No. 17, October 21, 1993, pp. 3, 6.

[Trevor is an acclaimed Irish short story writer, novelist, dramatist, and memoirist. In the following review, he commends the subtly detailed evocation of time and place and the insightful characterizations in No Other Life.]

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Jack Miles (essay date 13 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Epiphanies of Love and Loss," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 13, 1994, pp. A, G.

[In the following essay, written to commemorate Moore's reception of the Robert Kirsch Award, Miles praises the psychological acuity and moral profundity of Moore's fiction, commending, in particular, his portrayal of women, priests, and artists.]

The anonymous judge for the Robert Kirsch Award noted that among the many distinguished authors living in or writing about the American West, there is "only one inescapable candidate" for The Times' highest literary honor—Brian Moore.

Moore, a resident of Malibu since shortly after World War II,...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


McIlroy, Brian. "A Brian Moore Bibliography: 1974–1987." Irish University Review 18, No 1 (Spring 1988): 106-33.

Bibliography which includes Moore's novels first published after 1974, earlier novels reprinted after 1974, and scripts. McIlroy also lists secondary sources including interviews, whole books and chapters, dissertations, articles, and reviews.


Banville, John. "Honest-to-God Alarms." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4690 (19 February 1993): 22.

Praises the sustained tension and "existential terror" that the...

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