During 2021, I am delighted to be joining forces with the official Brian Moore at 100 team and the brilliant author Jan Carson to celebrate the work of one of Northern Ireland’s finest writers, Brian Moore, in his centenary year.
Belfast-born Brian Moore (1921 – 1999) is probably best known outside Ireland as the author of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, one of the few of his books still in print. He was described in the LA Times as “one of the few genuine masters of the contemporary novel” , was Graeme Greene’s favourite contemporary writer and wrote 26 novels over the space of 50 years. Writing in a variety of diverse genres he lived most of his adult life in Canada and the U.S. and his first four books were banned in his native Ireland.
He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1975 and the inaugural Sunday Express Book of the Year award in 1987, and he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times (in 1976, 1987 and 1990). Moore also wrote screenplays, including an outline for Hitchcock’s 1966 classic Torn Curtain and several of his books were made into films.
It’s quite astounding that a writer of such calibre, who had incredible critical and public success during his life should now be effectively out of print. In 2021, the centenary of Moore’s birth, the Brian Moore at 100 project aims to critically appraise, and thus revive scholarly and public interest in the work of this neglected and important writer.
I am delighted to be hosting this year long read-along of Brian Moore’s work. I will be reading one of his books each month and will discuss it in the last week of that month. Here are the 12 books we have selected as a great introduction to the work of this more versatile and under-appreciated of writers.
|January||Lies of Silence (1999)|
|February||The Feast of Lupercal (1957)|
|April||The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne(1955)|
|May||The Doctor’s Wife (1976)|
|June||No Other Life (1993)|
|July||Cold Heaven (1983)|
|August||The Temptation of Eileen Hughes (1981)|
|September||The Emperor of Icecream (1965)|
|October||The Dear Departed: Short Stories (2020)|
|December||The Magician’s Wife (1997)|
Throughout the year I will also be reading and reviewing Patricia Craig’s wonderful biography of Brian Moore, exploring his work writing for cinema, watching the film adaptations of his books and will be welcoming some special guests to the blog, including Turnpike Books, who have just published Moore’s Selected Stories.
I would love it if some of you could read-along with me, but I am aware it won’t be easy given that so much of Moore’s work is out of print. The Dear Departed and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne are still in print, while The Magician’s Wife, Catholics, Lies of Silence, No Other Life and The Doctor’s Wife are all available as eBooks.
Some brilliant bloggers have already reviewed The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne including Jacqui, Ali, Karen, Naomi, Kim at Reading Matters has reviewed Lies of Silence and Guy has reviewed The Feast of Lupercal, as has Jonathan. Brian Moore has also been championed by John Self over at Asylum who has reviewed 10 of his novels and by Lizzy who has also reviewed 10!
Most of his novels are still available from online second-hand sellers. I’d also love to hear from some of my Canadian bookish friends on how Moore is considered in his adopted country.
I do hope some of you can join me in the celebration of one of Ireland’s finest writers.
About Brian Moore
Belfast and Beyond: 1921-1948
Brian Moore was born in August 1921 into a middle-class Catholic family, the fourth of nine children, at Clifton Street in Belfast. An alumnus of St. Malachy’s College – thinly veiled as Ardath College in Moore’s second novel, The Feast of Lupercal (1957) – his weakness at mathematics thwarted efforts to matriculate at Queen’s University. In September 1940, he joined the Air Raid Precautions as a warden, a role that inspired the third of his “Belfast Trilogy” of novels, The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965).
Moore was peripatetic during the years 1943 to 1948: after securing a job with the British Ministry of War Transport, he was posted to Algiers, Naples, Toulon and Marseilles; after the war, he was sent to Warsaw by his new employer, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In January 1948, he followed his lover, Margaret Swanson, to her home country: Canada.
The relationship didn’t last but Moore stayed in Canada. He moved to Montreal and secured a position as proofreader, and eventually reporter, at the Montreal Gazette. By the early 1950s, Moore had begun selling fiction to the Montreal-based Weekend magazine. His first story, “Sassenach,” was published in the Canadian periodical Northern Review in 1951. He also supplemented his reporter’s income by publishing pulp novels for Harlequin Books: two of them, Wreath for a Redhead and The Executioners, appeared under his own name in 1951. (He left the Gazette in 1952). He eventually published five more pulp novels under the pseudonyms Bernard Mara and Michael Bryan (1954-57).
Moore married Jacqueline Sirois (née Scully) in February 1951 and the couple had a son, Michael, who was born not long after Moore became a Canadian citizen in November 1953. Around the same time, he was completing his first “literary” novel, Judith Hearne, set primarily in a boarding house on Camden Street in Belfast. After several rejections, he eventually placed it with André Deutsch in London, who brought it out in May 1955. He followed up with another Belfast-set novel, The Feast of Lupercal (1957).
New York * Belfast/London * New York: 1959-1965
In May 1959, Moore took up a Guggenheim Fellowship – which required him to live in the U.S. for a year – and never returned to Canada to live. (During the last years of his life, he and his wife spent summers at their holiday home near Port Medway in Nova Scotia). The Luck of Ginger Coffey, his only novel set entirely in Canada, came out in 1960 and was followed up by his New York-set An Answer from Limbo (1962). Moore’s first four (mainstream) novels were banned in Ireland.
In the autumn of 1964, Moore left Jackie for Jean Russell (née Denney), whom he married in 1967. In March 1965, the couple relocated to Hollywood, where Moore was contracted to work on a film outline, which became Torn Curtain (1966), with Alfred Hitchcock. The Emperor of Ice-Cream came out later that year.
The couple lived in California for the rest of Moore’s life: from 1966, this was in a house in Malibu, still occupied by Jean after Moore’s death, that burned down during the Woolsey fire in late 2018. During that time, Moore published fourteen more novels, including The Great Victorian Collection (1975), which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Booker-shortlisted The Doctor’s Wife (1976), The Colour of Blood (1987) and Lies of Silence (1990). He taught creative writing at UCLA from 1973 to 1990 and was awarded an honourary degree from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1987.
Brian Moore died in 1999.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!