Invisible Ink: No 69 - Brian Moore
Sunday 20 March 2011
There are too many Brian Moores. One is rugby's hard man, the uncompromising commentator who has several biographies. The less-discovered Moore is the Irish-Canadian novelist who wrote a number of haunting novels, often concerning life in Northern Ireland, exploring the Troubles and the Blitz. Born in 1921 into a family of nine children in Belfast, he rejected Catholicism and explained his personal beliefs through the characters of torn priests and strong women.
Not that you'd know this from his early works; Wreath For A Redhead, This Gun For Gloria and A Bullet For My Lady aren't exactly masterpieces. Moore wrote thrillers under two pseudonyms while perfecting his craft. Then came Judith Hearne, the story of an alcoholic piano teacher subsisting in rented rooms, which gains its heartbreaking power from the simplicity of clear prose. It was later filmed as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne with Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins. Five of his novels became films, and he scripted for both Alfred Hitchcock and Claude Chabrol, although he described the writing of Torn Curtain as "awful, like washing floors".
Financed by a grant from the Guggenheim, Moore moved to New York. He often returned to the subject of isolated outsiders facing the consequences of their actions, from the rabble-rousing missionary in No Other Life and the Fascist officer awaiting discovery in The Statement to the conflicted priest living among Canada's Algonquin Indians in the harrowing Black Robe. He was Graham Greene's favourite living novelist, mainly, one suspects, because he was able to explore the paradoxical dilemmas of faith, morality, redemption and loss within the structure of popular thriller writing.
In The Magician's Wife, a Parisian prestidigitator is dispatched to Algeria by Emperor Napoleon III to trick the natives into believing that a Christian Frenchman can perform miracles, but his wife is not so easily hoodwinked. It's a typical tour-de-force from a novelist who was thrice nominated for the Booker Prize, and the subject of three biographies.
Perhaps his least appreciated novel is The Great Victorian Collection, an exuberant fantasy in which a young assistant history professor dreams of an open-air market filled with a dazzling collection of priceless Victoriana, only to awake and find it standing outside his window.
Moore's books are effortless to read, pithy, and unfashionably short. He died in 1999. A few of his novels are published by Paladin.
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