Lies of Silence

by Brian Moore

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Brian Moore, a novelist from Northern Ireland, published the 1990 novel Lies of Silence while living in California. Although Moore was physically removed from his country of origin, his work reveals that his thoughts rarely left the nation he once called home. Lies of Silence is a story about the fragmentation of Irish society throughout the late twentieth century. Rocked by the Troubles—a violent, nationalistic conflict over Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK fought from the mid-1960s to late 1990s—Ireland found itself on the precipice of disaster. Efforts to rid Ireland of British rule led by the Provision Irish Republican Army (IRA) soured; fighting broke out in 1969 and would not end until 1998. Several thousand people died in the conflict, with civilians making up the brunt of the casualties. The novel invites readers to step into the conflict-ridden streets of Northern Ireland, asking: what would you do? As much as the novel is a conventional thriller, it is also an assessment of human nature intended to explore how objective morality and subjective desire interact in the high-stakes context of 1990s Ireland. 

The novel follows Michael Dillon, an aspiring poet who allowed his creative ambitions to wither in favor of a comfortable, well-paying job as a hotel manager. Dissatisfied with his life—his home in the chaos-filled streets of Northern Ireland, his uneventful job, and his emotionally frail wife, Moira—Dillon longs for more. He satisfies this desire with Andrea, a much younger woman with whom he has begun an affair. Over time, their clandestine relationship has grown serious. After Andrea receives a job offer in London, Dillon agrees to leave his wife and follow Andrea to London. Dillon decides to confess to his wife the following day and ask her for a divorce—a much-derided word in the Catholic enclave of Northern Ireland. 

However, Dillon’s confession is derailed when he wakes up to a group of IRA-affiliated men breaking into his home. The men task Dillon with a deadly mission: park a bomb-filled car in the garage of the hotel where he works, then walk away. Minutes later, the bomb will be remotely activated, killing hundreds, including the Reverend Alun Pottinger, who is set to speak at a conference there. If Dillon refuses, the men explain, they will kill Moira. If he goes to the authorities, the same fate awaits her. It is an impossible choice: Dillon is either responsible for the death of his wife or the death of an innumerable amount of civilians. Surprisingly, Dillon proves capable under pressure and telephones the police with just enough time to evacuate the hotel and save Moira. 

Hurt by her husband’s seeming disregard for her well-being, Moira pushes Dillon to comfort her. Instead, the truth of his affair comes to light. Moira, having survived her ordeal, is blind-sided by the revelation of her husband’s infidelity. To cope, she turns to advocacy, becoming a high-profile anti-IRA spokesperson. Meanwhile, Dillon flees to London with Andrea, leaving his wife and life in Belfast behind. Unfortunately, the IRA is not through with him yet; he has seen the faces of the men who broke into his home, and they worry that he might testify against them. Dillon has no desire to testify, but the young men whose actions irreparably changed his life do not know that. 

After moving to London, Dillon thinks he is safe. However, he could not be further from it; an IRA agent disguises himself as a gasman and tricks Dillon into inviting him in. After confirming Dillon’s identity, the agent retrieves a hidden weapon and murders him in cold blood. Dillon’s...

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story ends just as it began: he was, and remains, the unhappy victim of circumstances outside of his control. Moore’s depiction of mundane lives upended by happenstance creates a swirling collection of moral quandaries and their corollaries, asking: how does life go on in the face of trauma and tragedy? Dillon's problems in the domestic sphere meld with the grim sociopolitical sphere of Belfast in the 1990s, evolving into an amalgam of impossible decisions and catastrophic consequences. There are no winners, only choices to be made and consequences to be borne.