Slugger Seasonal Book Club: Vol. 1

It’s getting to be the time of year when you have to start thinking about gifts. Bah. For others. Humbug. Or maybe just because the relentless rain and grey skies are giving you the perfect opportunity to explore like in the Great Indoors. Or perhaps you are just a bibliobibuli, c.f. someone who reads too much. Either way, this seasonal Slugger book club is for you. So pull up an armchair while we discuss classic NI books, past and present.

This week…. Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.

Judith 1

Who dunnit: Brian Moore, born 1921, north Belfast resident. Renounced religion precociously at the age of 11, left school in 1939, having failed his senior exams. Worked for the UN for a while in Eastern Europe post-WWII, emigrated to Canada in 1948. Moore worked as a reporter in Montreal, while writing pulp fiction thrillers. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne was written while he lived alone for a few months in a cabin in Ottawa. It was Moore’s first attempt at literary fiction, it was rejected by ten publishers and eventually published in 1955.

judith 2

Why is it a classic: Moore was shortlisted for the Booker three times. Graham Greene described him as his “favourite living novelist”. John Banville was a fan. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mocking Bird) described The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne as “to my notion, everything a novel should be”. Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road) called it “a masterpiece”. So, you know, there’s maybe a few compelling reasons to give it a try.

Reasons to Give it a Miss: The grey skies. The joyless solitary drinking. The religion. The horrible carpets with the mystery stains. The claustrophobia. The unremitting negativity. The car crash style catastrophes you can see coming from the beginning but you have to watch unraveling very, very, painfully slowly.

Judith 3

Three words to sum up the plot: Single white female? Dreams Gone Awry? Spinster Lady Blues?

Can I just watch the movie?: Yep. And it’s not a bad movie, if you can get over the fact that it’s set in Dublin instead of Belfast and Bob Hoskins makes a fairly unsubtle Madden, the prodigal son returned from New York, a few quid in his pocket, half crippled and an awareness that ‘the drink had always been a problem’. And don’t even mention Ian McNeice’s portrayal of Bernard, which hovers somewhere around the Little Britain mark. Maggie Smith is, however, as you would imagine, wonderful.

Judith 4

Who to buy it for: Or more accurately who not to buy it for. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne pulls no punches and is most grim in its portrayals of the loneliness, powerlessness and economic uncertainties of the single woman who has a certain fondness for tonic wine and whiskey, a little bit of a Jesus obsession and a preference for living in the past. Know anyone like this? Don’t buy this book for them! Know any proud Ulstermen? Don’t buy it for them either – quick snapshot description:

“And so they walked down Wellington Place and reached the designated centre of the city, the staring white ugliness of City Hall…The order, the neatness, the floodlit cenotaph, a white respectable phallus planted in sinking Irish bog. The Protestant dearth of gaiety, the Protestant surfeit of order, the dour Ulster burghers walking proudly among these monuments to their mediocrity.”




What do you think? Top of the list or would you rather get coal in your stocking? Back every week from now til Christmas…ho ho ho etc.

  • Mister_Joe

    Gifts…for others. My wife and I took much of the stress away from the mad hunt years ago by agreeing to buy our own gift. It’s easy.

  • And this, Mister_Joe, is the kind of situation that makes the holidays so lonely for Miss Hearne *sobs* *lights stove* *cracks open a bottle of tonic wine*

  • LordSummerisle

    Certainly a bleak read during the season of advent (a season of expectant waiting). I certainly found the Belfast as described by Moore interesting. As regards the plot, I found it to contain a profound sense of hopelessness. Not exactly the most joyous read. No excuse me I have to find a nail to put the Sacred Heart above my bed.

  • Absolutely a bleak read, in my opinion anyway.

    Moore was undoubtedly influenced / inspired by Joyce, and while the Dublin portrayed in The Dubliners and Ulysses is not by any means an open, inclusive city filled with fun and light, there are definitely moments of tenderness, joy and humour in Joyce’s work, that seem utterly lacking in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. The title is not ironic!

    Possibly this is because Moore is unable to fully realise the inner life of a woman, in the way Joyce brings Bloom and Dedalus to life – and there is possibly a question of appropriation, Moore ‘using’ the position of women to critique the society but doing so without due regard to his subject. Therefore we see the loneliness, powerlessness, regrets, frustration and misery throughout, but we never really see the humour, affection, interests and creative spirit of Judith, despite the constant visits into her interior monologues.

    But, dear me, I have rambled on long enough. Excuse me while I get wrecked drunk, sing to myself all afternoon and sleep through the piano lesson I am supposed to be teaching.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m afraid that, like Damiens attempts in “Drop the Dead Donkey” to create pathos using a child’s teddy amid the bleak ruins of war, Brian Moore’s unremitting saga of hopelessness has been giving me the giggles since I was a contrary teenager in the 1960s. Perhaps if Brian had followed the lead of George Shields and Denis Johnston and drawn on the example of another thread that has influenced literary traditions in the north:

    Reputedly Ronald Firbank’s favorite novel! As Jack Louden said:

    “Amanda is the most perfect instrument for measuring the sense of humour. Alert and quick witted people accept her at once: those she leaves entirely unmoved are invariably dull and unimaginative.”

    Not that I’d ever accuse Brian of being “dull and unimaginative.”

  • Granni Trixie

    I think Moore is a great storyteller and I think that the focus on someone on the periphery of a family works – reveals her inner life and a picture of a particular time. One of the reasons Brian Moore tends to be unrated is that he is so accessible (unlike much of Joyce,say).

  • That’s an interesting point – Moore is accessible perhaps in the way that other writers such as Harper Lee could be described as accessible, and no less nuanced for it, which is one reason why he has so many self professed fans in the literary world (dahling). I’m not completely convinced that he fully realises the inner life of Judith as well as he thinks he has, but it is definitely an interesting read on power, powerlessness and the isolation of the periphery

  • Literature rarely tends towards the cheery but I’m afraid the unremitting hopelessness in Moore’s writing does have a similar effect on me. This level of relentless misery treads a fine line and I think there needs to be a degree of self awareness. It is debatable if Moore has much more of that than Judith herself does, so it can all teeter into melodrama without too much encouragement. I find that, contrary to all reason, I quite like Judith in an odd way though

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Of course, W[r]ite Noise, comparing Moore with Amanda McKittrick Ros is on one level simply a rather mischievous version of my usual flânerie. But on another I feel I’m making actually making a serious point. As you say about Moore and “Judith”, ” it can all teeter into melodrama without too much encouragement”, and even when I was reading Moore in my teens, this element where there is an unconscious teetering on the absurd forcibly reminded me of Amanda’s work. Thank you for pointing it out!

    Of course this does not detract from Moore’s positive skills a writer displays, and I have continued to read him as he came out from “The Emperor of Ice Cream” right up to “The Magician’s Wife.” He develops (don’t we all) interestingly and the sheer misery of “LPO Judith Hearne” is of course particular to the book, so I’m being a little unfair.

    I wonder if he ever read Amanda? There is very little sign (an understatement!) of her kind of wild playfulness in his work, and he probably followed the cannonic assessment of her work as not worth even opening. There so much real unfairness (and not a little mysogeny) in how poor Amanda is remembered, something Moore himself rarely encountered in a career that was pretty well supported by the critics, as I remember the reviews. The new edition of the Amanda book that I’ve linked departs from the “Worst Writer Ever” school of criticism by taking her seriously as a primitive, comparable to Henri Rousseau (`Le Douanier’), something a number of contemporary writers such as Aldus Huxley ( and Shields and Johnston) actually did, and the editor even points out similarities to the development of Joyce’s word play, something even noted by Kenneth Tynan! And I love that challenging assessment by the long dead Ulster broadcaster Jack Loudan!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Inclined to agree about the inner life issue. Moore is not very good with the feminine.

  • I personally think Amanda McKittrick Ros’s much maligned phrase to be ‘touched by the hot hand of bewilderment’ (or ‘blush to you and I) is actually quite amazing and every time I take a beamer I think of her. Perhaps another tome for the Slugger book club….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    She’s a discovery, and finding out that such a fellow flâneur and prose stylist as Ronald Firbank was influenced by her was really something of a discovery too. How many other Larne authors can you say have sat on the shelves of the masters of the Modern Movement? The new “Ardrigh Books” edition had a long critical intro, and reproduces fully the two big critical attacks that drove her to her two magnificent ripostes, both also reproduced. One of them is just pure “Finnegan’s Wake”!

    Might think of doing a piece on Amanda for Slugger, time and Mick’s patience for my inconsequential vaguerys permitting……….

  • You definitely should, sounds like it would be an interesting read. I love a good riposte!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I could not resist just a little quote from the piece mentioned, with Amanda beating Molly Bloom by about 18 years! :

    “Never in the knowledge of man has there been such a downpour of expression, such a page of kindliness, as that found in Black and White, page 249, of 19th February, 1898, entitled “The Book of the Century,” by (I’m all in a swoon!) – by (ah, the thought is too great, it is too much!) – by Bar – (Almighty Father, my brain is in a whizz!) – Barry – (I’m tremendous sick!) – P – (Holy of Holies! ) – Pa – (the heart’s pulsations are about to stop!) – Pain! – (not a bit of them! I’ve got relief, by heavens! relief at last!), and good-bye, Barry dear, until we meet once more in the field of “pepper-and-salt” literature!”

    And hey, I know, I should have said “Ulysses” as well as “Finnegan’s Wake.”