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.
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.
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.
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.
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.