Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book regularly celebrate work published in a particular year. And this time it’s 1968, which I couldn’t resist as it’s when I was born. My choice is the thirteenth novel (though some would say sixth, see below) by Brian Moore, a meditation by a thrice married woman on her life thus far.
First off, here is Simon to tell us about The 1968 Club:
The idea is that we all read and review books published in the same year, and – together, collaboratively – we can build up a really detailed picture of a year in books. I’ll host links to all new reviews (and feel free to do some reading in advance!) – novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, drama, everything is welcome. Books in translation also strongly encouraged, particularly if they were published in the original language in 1968 – but feel free to make up your own rules! For more information, visit Stuck in a Book.
“I am no longer Mary Dunne, or Mary Phelan, or Mary Bell, or even Mary Lavery. I am a changeling who has changed too often and there are moments when I cannot find my way back.”
Brian Moore (1921-1999) had a multi-faceted career, one that spanned several phases and countries. Born in Belfast, one of eight children, he served in North Africa, Italy and France during the Second World War before emigrating to Canada in 1948, ultimately taking up Canadian citizenship. Working initially as a journalist, he made a name for himself as a novelist with The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne in 1955, though by then he had already published several thrillers, some appearing under the pseudonym ‘Bernard Mara’ though the best known of them, Intent to Kill (filmed in 1959) appeared under his ‘Michael Bryan’ byline. In 1959 Moore moved to New York and stayed there until 1967, when he divorced his first wife, after which he moved to California. I am Mary Dunne, while clearly very Joycean in its depiction through an interior monologue of a day in the life of its protagonist, is also highly autobiographical. Like the author, Mary is a Canadian living in New York who was brought up a Catholic but has since been divorced. Mary is in fact on her third marriage but after an embarrassing moment at the hairdresser when she forgot her most recent married surname (Dunne is her maiden name), she starts to revisit various events from her life thus far.
“And Julie Harris smiled and muttered something, allowing, I suppose, as how she was Julie Harris.”
Mary was brought up a Catholic in a small village in Nova Scotia but ultimately left and pretty much cut herself off, apart from the occasional letter, from the brother and mother she left behind. She has become an actress and lives in New York but is not much of a sophisticate – there is a great moment when she runs into the actress Julie Harris, the star of The Haunting and East of Eden and gushes just as any of us mere mortals might (incidentally, Harris also get mentioned in Moore’s later wonderful work, The Mangan Inheritance).
“I am, always have been,a fool who rushes in, a blurter-out of awkward truths, a speaker-up at parties who, the morning after, filled with guilt, vows that never again, no matter what, but who, faced at the very next encounter with someone whose opinion strike me as unfair, rushes in again, blurting out, breaking all vows.”
Graham Greene once called Moore “my favourite living novelist” and it is superficially easy to see the connections between the two with their shared interest in Catholic themes, the use of the thriller formula and strong ties to the cinema. All of this is true but where I think Moore very much supersedes Greene is in the depth he brings to the depiction of his female characters. Greene’s protagonists are in fact pretty much exclusively male (Sarah in End of the Affair is the obvious exception, but she is depicted exclusively though male eyes). Moore however, in such books as Judith Hearne as well as The Doctor’s Wife and Cold Heaven, exhibited a sensitivity that is all his own. And this is especially true of Mary Dunne, with its touching portrait of a neurotic woman trying to figure out what she may have lost in her life so far, haunted by two deaths, one of which she feels guilty about. This book was in many ways a turning point for Moore, when his limpid and precise prose style truly became distinctive, creating a voice and sound that he would retain for the rest of his remarkable career, whether adapting it to suit stories set among terrorists in Northern Ireland or 17th century priests. This is an exceptional novel by a great writer. For a more detailed analysis, please visit John Self’s Asylum.
As a short epilogue, as this is a blog mainly devoted to mystery and suspense, I just thought I would flag the ‘pulp’ novels Moore wrote in the 1950s at the beginning of his career.
Brian Moore’s early pulp fiction:
Wreath for a Redhead (1951) (U.S. title: Sailor’s Leave)
The Executioners (1951)
French for Murder (1954) (as Bernard Mara)
A Bullet for My Lady (1955) (as Bernard Mara)
This Gun for Gloria (1956) (as Bernard Mara)
Intent to Kill (1956) (as Michael Bryan)
Murder in Majorca (1957) (as Michael Bryan)
Moore was, it is fair to say, a bit embarrassed about these examples of “left hand” work and didn’t include them in his standard bibliography. In many ways this is reminiscent of Graham Greene’s differentiations between his novels and his ‘entertainments’ though in his later books his use of the thriller mode made the distinction pretty meaningless. I think this is the same for Moore, who used the thriller formula in some of his very best later novels.
If you want to know more about Moore’s work in the pulps, then your man is Brian Busby and you should visit his blog, The Dusty Bookcase.
And here is Moore’s “literary” bibliography, the one you would normally find tucked away in his novels:
The novels of Brian Moore (thrillers marked with **)
- The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955)
- The Feast of Lupercal (1957)
- The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960)
- An Answer from Limbo (1962)
- The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965)
- I Am Mary Dunne (1968)
- Fergus (1970)
- The Revolution Script (1971)
- Catholics (1972)
- The Great Victorian Collection (1975)
- The Doctor’s Wife (1976)
- The Mangan Inheritance (1979)
- The Temptation of Eileen Hughes (1981)
- Cold Heaven (1983)
- Black Robe (1985)
- The Colour of Blood (1987) **
- Lies of Silence (1990) **
- No Other Life (1993)
- The Statement (1995) **
- The Magician’s Wife (1997)
Moore also wrote several screenplays, most famously a slightly uneasy collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, Torn Curtain (1966). Of the adaptations of his novels for the screen, I would especially recommend Black Robe (with Daniel Day Lewis working from a screenplay by Moore), The Statement (adapted by Ronald Harwood and starring Michael Caine) and the unfortunately hard-to-find adaptation of Cold Heaven directed by Nicholas Roeg and released in 1991. Never released on DVD as far as I can tell (though it was out on VHS), you can stream it online via Amazon.