Luca Fumagalli

The novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, published in 1956 and adapted for the cinema in 1987, told the unfortunate story of Judith, an alcoholic, tormented by the memory of an old aunt. Her desperation is best described in one of the most touching scenes of the book, when Judith, who now no longer believes in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, mounts the steps of a church altar and tries to break open the tabernacle.

The novel was the first by Brian Moore to reach the shelves of the bookstores, and from that moment the protagonist of almost all his subsequent works became a poor Catholic in crisis, often a priest (not by chance Moore was an admirer of Graham Greene). It is demonstrated, for example, by No other life (1993), the story of a black priest who reaches the presidency of an island similar to Haiti, while his mentor becomes a cynical and rancorous skeptic.

Naturally in Moore’s novels there is no lack of issues that cyclically recur, but it is the religious questions that characterize the plot of his most representative works, such as Black Robe (1985) and The Color of Blood (1987), respectively the story of a missionary Jesuit and of a Cardinal of Eastern Europe living a conflictual relationship with God and with the Church.

Born in Belfast in 1921, Moore moved first to Canada – the country in which he began his career – and then to California, where he died in 1999.

Like Joyce, he always had an ambiguous feeling of hatred and love towards Ireland and Catholicism. At the same time, however, the stories set in Ireland are the best. The thriller Lies of Silence (1990) is a perfect example: in a dangerous Belfast there is at least the chance of a moral victory. Although for Moore, as for Dostoevsky, the loss of God means the loss of everything, in his novels, there remains a residue of authentic humanity which, even in the worst circumstances, leaves a small possibility of redemption.

From a stylistic point of view, the most fascinating feature of his novels is that the various characters act credibly, moved by their own volition, without being manipulated like puppets by their creator.

Moore secured a measure of international fame by the publication, in 1972, of the futuristic novella Catholics, which also inspired a film starring Martin Sheen. It tells of the contrast between the traditional Catholicism of an Irish abbey, located on a small island, and the modernist Faith of Father Kinsella, who was undertaking a mission on behalf of the World Council of Churches in order to investigate the remarkable orthodoxy of the monks. Despite the premises, the story is not a trivial conflict between ancient and modern, but it is rather a survey of the souls of the protagonists and their Faith (real or alleged).

The long bibliography of Moore is so rich and complex that the reader will inevitably be disorientated: the Irishman had abandoned the Church, but the assumption to be drawn from his writings is that God was, at the very least, still on his tracks.