Lies of Silence

by Brian Moore
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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220

Brian Moore’s 2009 novel, Lies of Silence, is a story about factionalism in Irish politics, poverty, and infidelity. It follows Michael Dillon, a hotel manager. He is about to confess his extramarital affair to his wife, but masked representatives of the IRA break in and keep his wife hostage. They instruct Dillon to park a bomb-laden car beneath his hotel’s garage in order to kill the speaker at the hotel. His wife, Moira, is held hostage. Dillon is able to go to call the police to have the people evacuate the hotel; however, Moira, though she survives, is already insecure and so is tremendously hurt by her husband’s decision to risk her life for the welfare of many strangers. After the incident, she goes on the radio to protest the IRA’s injustices.

Dillon saw the face of one of the assailants, which then makes him a target. He confesses to a priest that he would do anything to help the police, including identifying the criminal, and the priest in turn tells the IRA. By this point, Dillon has moved to England to be with his lover, Andrea. Soon after the encounter with the priest, when Andrea is out, unmasked men enter to kill Dillon, whose final thoughts wonder whether the struggle of the IRA was worth it.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1269

Lies of Silence is a suspense novel, a study of human nature, and an examination of the conflicts in Northern Ireland. What connects all three aspects is the recognition of mystery: the mystery of a thriller, the mystery of human beings, and the mystery of political and religious conflict.

The suspense novel revolves around a plot initiated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to assassinate a Protestant clergyman. A group of IRA men plan to place a bomb in the car of Michael Dillon, the manager of the hotel in which the clergyman is scheduled to speak. Breaking into Dillon’s house, the IRA conspirators take Dillon and his wife, Moira, hostage; they force him to drive his car to the hotel, telling him that Moira will be killed if he informs the police.

Dillon drives to the hotel, as directed, but telephones the police in time to evacuate the guests and employees. Moira is not physically hurt by the gang, but she is hurt by what she perceives as her husband’s lack of concern for her welfare and, eventually, by what she learns about him—that is, he is planning to leave her for life in London with Andrea, a Canadian who works for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The conclusion of the suspense novel revolves around Dillon’s departure and the relentless pursuit of the IRA to prevent him from identifying the gang that had held him and his wife hostage.

This suspense novel is also a study of human beings who are mysterious, enigmatic individuals. Michael Dillon is a middle- aged man, unhappy in his marriage and with his decision to have abandoned his earlier calling as a poet. Additionally, he is unhappy living in Northern Ireland, seeing it as a place of irreconcilable and unresolvable conflicts. What author Brian Moore has called “the fragility of the self” is apparent in Dillon: He is a vulnerable human being who sees Andrea and London as the way out of his entrapment. Unfortunately for Dillon, in this novel, as in life, there is no simple, happy ending for a complex, unhappy individual.

Dillon’s wife, Moira, is another example of the fragile self. A beautiful woman fearful of losing her physical attractiveness, Moira is bulimic, a condition described by a doctor as being associated with women who “want to become a stereotype of helpless, dependent, female beauty.” Additionally, according to the doctor, bulimics can be suicidal.

Moira and Dillon also exemplify Moore’s interest in the moment of crisis when individuals are faced with complexities and choices that will change their lives forever. In the case of the Dillons, their captivity by the IRA gang, brief as it was, transforms them. The capture puts Dillon into the position of risking his wife’s life on behalf of the many lives of people in the hotel; choosing the welfare of many over the safety of Moira complicates his life irreversibly. Similarly, Moira decides, after the capture, to proclaim the atrocities of the IRA on the airwaves, assuming a kind of Joan of Arc approach to life, as one of her friends points out. Like Dillon, she is changed by this decision, transformed from helpless, dependent beauty to self-determining, independent spokesperson.

In addition to being a suspense novel and a study of human nature, Lies of Silence is an examination of the ongoing and seemingly irreconcilable conflicts in Northern Ireland. The conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, Irish and British, are problematic in themselves, but at the heart of this book—and indicated by its title—are the lies that caused and perpetuate these problems. Thus Dillon reflects on the

lies which had made this, his…hirthplace, sick with a terroinal illness of higotry and injustice, lies told over the years to poor Protestant working people ahout the Catholics, lies told to poor Catholic working people ahout the Protestants, lies from parliaments and pulpits, lies at rallies and funeral orations, and ahove all, the lies of silence from those in Westminster who did not want to face the injustices of Ulster’s status quo.

Dillon is eager to leave Northern Ireland and its repository of lies, while Moira refuses to leave this place of her birth, though she shares in her husband’s condemnation of both the lies and the liars. Despite their differing responses to Belfast, both have a love-hate relationship with Northern Ireland, thus emphasizing the mysterious force that a place and its inhabitants exert upon individuals.

Lies of Silence is Moore’s seventeenth novel, and it shares many of the qualities of his earlier books. It deals with ordinary people and the commonplace, a quality Moore’s literary hero James Joyce celebrated in his books, especially Ulysses (1922). Dillon and Moira are such individuals, as are Moira’s parents, individuals who live in an ordinary, drab home. When Moira retreats to this place, it and her parents engulf her in the grayness and ordinariness that Moore suggests is fundamental to life in Belfast. The house, with its cramped rooms and view of a rubbish dump, is described in careful detail, including its decor—or lack thereof. “As depressing as the lounge in an old people’s home,” this abode of the butcher and his wife contains “plastic-covered sofa and chairs, a television set which was never shut off garish kitsch paintings, cheap statuettes of nymphs and Disney animals, ethnic rugs and tasseled cushions, all of them purchased as souvenirs on package-tour holidays to the Costa Brava, Florida and the Algarve.” Though depressing, this house is nevertheless a home, a home for ordinary people who love their daughter and welcome her back to them with warmth and concern.

This attention to the details of ordinary people and the commonplace suggests that Moore’s talent is cinematic—that is, he helps readers see in the way that film-makers assist their viewers. This technique may be the result of Moore’s having worked with Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he wrote screenplays. Like Hitchcock, Moore rivets the attention of his viewers-readers upon details while, at the same time, moving them quickly through a plot that contains complicated actions initiated by equally complicated individuals. Compressing this plot into a short space—many of Moore’s books have fewer than two hundred pages—is another modern cinematic technique, a belief that less is more, that what is not said or seen is as important as the words or images presented by the author.

Lies of Silence is a brief, powerful combination of suspense, characterization, and culture. Like Moore’s first, and some say best, novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955), this book deals with daily choices and daily losses, the mysterious forces that motivate people and movements and countries, the lies of both individuals and nations. It is, finally, about questions that cannot be answered, including the question Dillon asks himself moments before his death: “Was any country worth the price that Ireland asked, a beggar’s price, demanded again and again and never paid in full?”

Sources for Further Study

Books in Canada. XIX, April, 1990, p.42.

Kirkus Reviews. LVIII, June 15, 1990, p.828.

Listener. CXIII, April 5, 1990, p.20.

London Review of Books. XII, May 24, 1990, p.18.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 9, 1990, p.3.

Maclean’s. CIII, June 18, 1990, p.66.

New Statesman and Society. III, April 20, 1990, p.36.

The New York Review of Books. XXXVII, December 6, 1990, p.22.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV, September 2, 1990, p.1.

Newsweek. CXVI, September 17, 1990, p.59.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, June 22, 1990, p.47.

Punch. CCXCVIII, April 13, 1990, p.30.

The Spectator. CCLXIV, April 21, 1990, p.31.

The Times Literary Supplement. April 20, 1990, p.430.

The Washington Post Book World. XX, August 26, 1990, p.S.

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