AUTHOR: BRIAN MOORE
Details: Book Club read for Dialogues
“The lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is the story of a respectable and religious piano teacher who has moved into a boarding-house in Belfast. Miss Hearne, like the house, has known better days. The landlady, her monstrous son and the other tenants make her nervous, but the landlady’s brother, Mr. Madden, seems attractive, possibly a suitable husband. Judith thinks he owns a hotel in New York, but in reality he is close to penniless and he has a drink problem. So does Judith. As her emotional and social life begins to fall apart, she also loses her grip on the faith that has sustained her. At last she does something shameful in a church.
Judith is an intensely sad heroine, but the way she is portrayed by Brian Moore is vibrant with life and dark comedy.”
A story without a single sympathetic, relatable or pleasant character in it is hard to like, and I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy this book very much. This is the second time I read this book and I really hoped that my dislike of it, the first time around, was due to me still being fairly unfamiliar with life in Ireland. Alas, it turned out that after another 10+ years in Ireland I don’t like this book any better than I did back then.
On the plus side I have to admit that this is a well written story. Brian Moore knows how to put a story together and build it up to its inevitable climax in a convincing and compelling way. For me to end up disliking the book and the characters in it as much as I did in this case both the story and people in it have to be written in a convincing manner.
My problem is that this story was compelling in the same way an accident or natural disaster can be hard to look away from; you can’t stop staring but feel kind of disgusted with yourself for not turning away. I mean, it is not unusual for me to come across a character I would love to slap around for a while. What is unusual is to read a book in which none of the characters appear to have any redeeming qualities. This book appears to be a study in human pettiness, determined to show-up the middle classes in Belfast about 50 years ago as small-minded, selfish and lacking in most forms of human decency. It really doesn’t matter which of the characters you look at; from Judith herself to her landlady, the landlady’s horrid son, the landlady’s brother returned from America and even the parish priest, everybody seemed to be thinking only of themselves, their own interest and the image they would like to uphold. It painted a very sad picture. Although there were characters who, through their actions, appeared to show some human kindness near the end of the book you’d have to wonder if that was the result of their goodness or just to silence their guilty conscience.
Regardless of whether or not this book paints a faithful picture of Belfast in the 1950’s I can’t find many redeeming qualities in it, least of all the dark humour described in the blurb. And it is safe to say that I won’t be reading this book a third time, not for any reason or occasion.