The amnesia of our age: the lonely passion of Brian Moore

When I became aware of “serious” literature in the late 80s/early 90s, Brian Moore was quite a substantial figure – repeatedly nominated for the Booker Prize, his books made into films such as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and Black Robe.

While reading about the Belfast Blitz of 15th April 1941, I came across Moore’s reminiscences of that night, and also that wartime Belfast was the setting for his novel The Emperor of Ice Cream.

I also came across this piece, The Second Death of Brian Moore by Patrick Hicks. Hicks was the last person to interview Moore (on the phone)

Hicks recounts finding an absence of Moore online, when preparing for a class:

Moore abandoned Northern Ireland after World War II and moved to North America where he went on to write 20 novels and win a slew of awards. Before his death in 1999 he was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. The guy was prolific — he produced a novel every other year — and he was totally devoted to his art. But as I search the internet for him, he’s almost nowhere to be seen. It’s like Brian Moore has suffered a second death.

To be fair, I didn’t really notice his absence on the internet until I was prepping for class the other day. I thought it might be nice for my students to see a TV interview with him. But I found nothing. Radio interview? Nothing. How about a webpage devoted to his life and his powerful novels? Again, almost nothing.

Even though he did plenty of radio and television interviews, I’m beginning to realize that his death in 1999 meant that no one thought to digitize these interviews and put them on the web. He died before the internet took off and it became the warehouse of information and entertainment we know it to be. Not being on the web nowadays means that you don’t quite exist, and as I thought about this electronic absence, I began to feel like he was dying all over again.

Hicks also describes salvaging some of Moore’s childhood home from demolition:

While living in Belfast in the early-1990s, I heard that his childhood home was all but destroyed. Apparently the IRA was using it as a sniper’s nest to pick off British soldiers, so it was torn down. When I arrived, it was surrounded by a metal fence—only the kitchen floor remained. I’d heard that everything was going to be smothered under a thick layer of asphalt to make way for a parking lot, so I decided to take a chunk of the floor. Why not? Why not preserve something of literary history?

That’s when I heard the click-click of a round being chambered into a machine gun. I looked up and saw a British soldier aiming his weapon at me. My chest was in his crosshairs.

“What’re you doing here?” he barked.

I raised my hands with part of Moore’s childhood in my fist and explained. The soldier shook his head and told me to bugger off. “This is a restricted area. See that fence? Get out of here.”

And I did get out. Quickish, I might add.

To the best of my knowledge, the only part of Moore’s childhood home in Belfast is now in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s a paperweight on my desk. As a matter of fact, it’s sitting under the monitor as I type this very sentence.

I have written before about the illusion that all knowledge is online. Hicks describes the same thing:

It’s also a good reminder for me that the internet doesn’t house everything. We’d like to think it does, but it has plenty of gaps, holes, and missing pieces. One of these sizable holes, at least for me, happens whenever I search for “Brian Moore novelist” and I don’t see any videos or radio links. His obituaries pop up, but that’s about all.

Maybe that’s why I wrote this. Maybe I wanted to do something that would bring new readers towards him. He’s worth your time. I promise.

Aside from a couple of short stories, I have not read Moore. I have always wanted to read Black Robe and find his dual Canadian-Irish identity interesting. I am going to take Hicks’ advice; and also remember that there are plenty of missing pieces online.

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