Brian Moore, the Belfast-born author of 20 critically acclaimed novels and numerous screenplays, died Sunday night at his home in Malibu of pulmonary complications after a brief illness.
At the time of his death, the 77-year-old Moore--who came to Hollywood more than 30 years ago to work with director Alfred Hitchcock--was regarded in international literary circles as Los Angeles’ most important writer.
The late Graham Greene once called Moore “my favorite living novelist. Each book of his is unpredictable, dangerous and amusing. He treats the novel as a tamer treats a wild beast.” Moore’s successful execution of that feat lent his fiction an extraordinary balance of gravity and accessibility, which Joyce Carol Oates said made him a “supremely entertaining ‘serious’ writer.”
Though he left both Ireland and Roman Catholicism as a young man, Brian (pronounced Bree-an) Moore returned frequently to both in his fiction. “No writer has captured Belfast as brilliantly as he did in his early novels,” Irish critic Fintan O’Toole said Monday. “His work is saturated with Catholicism. Yet he was able to take those intimate attachments and transform them into something open, generous and elegant.”
Moore’s novels were particularly admired by many critics for the empathy and depth of their female protagonists’ characterization. His first book, “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” unforgettably portrayed the desperate life of an aging Belfast spinster sinking toward emotional poverty, and has been continuously in print since its publication in 1955.
More recently, Moore was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and literary honors: His novels “Lies of Silence” and “The Color of Blood” were short-listed for the Booker Prize, Britain’s top literary award, and, in 1994, he received The Times’ Lifetime Achievement Award.
He also wrote a number of screenplays, including Hitchcock’s 1966 film “The Torn Curtain,” and a widely admired CBS television film, “Catholics.” Among his own novels adapted for the screen were “The Luck of Ginger Coffey,” “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” “The Temptation of Eileen Hughes” (for the BBC), “Cold Heaven” and “Black Robe.”
Like many of their colleagues, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne--Moore’s longtime friends--spoke with particular warmth Monday of the special regard in which he was held by other writers.
“Brian, in every sense of the word,” Dunne said, “was a professional writer, the writer other writers loved to read just to see how he did it. Absent fad or fashion, he wrote novels that in lesser hands would be 600 pages long, but his, because of the clarity of his mind and because of his limpid prose, were rarely more than 200 pages.
“He was ever an outsider, a Catholic in his native Belfast, an Irishman in Canada, a Canadian in California, and he always had the outsider’s laser ability to illuminate the human condition,” Dunne said, recalling their more than 30 years of friendship.
“Brian truly honored fiction,” Didion said, “by his reading of it, by his respect for it, and most of all by the wit and intelligence and power he brought to the writing of it. He understood the craft, the discipline, and he understood equally the discipline required to practice it. He had no patience for the postures and quasi-celebrity of the literary life. Writing was just what he did most days of his life, and he never stopped being thrilled by it, taking risks with it, taking it to the far edge of where he knew it could go.”
Brian Moore was born Aug. 25, 1921 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father, James, was a surgeon who, at the age of 50, married one of his nurses, Eileen McFadden, a Gaelic-speaker and devout Catholic from County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. She bore her husband nine children.
Brian Moore was meant to follow his father into medicine, but abandoned his studies during World War II to join the British Ministry of War Transport, serving in North Africa, Italy and France. His passion for the latter country would remain with him forever. Young Brian left Belfast carrying only his clothes and a copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”
He never returned, emigrating to Canada after the war to work variously as a newspaper proofreader, reporter and rewrite man before turning to full-time fiction writing. He subsequently moved to New York to pursue his career, then moved to Los Angeles in 1966, where he and his wife, Jean, remained for the rest of his life.
“Brian Moore was a wonderful novelist,” said novelist and critic Thomas Flanagan. “His books are like 20 different novels by 20 different novelists, not at all because he was diffuse, but rather because the center of his talent lay close to his extraordinary and unsettling inventiveness and because of his storyteller’s confidence in that talent.”
Despite his critical reputation, Moore’s reception among American readers always was somewhat muted. That lack of attention, however, was not something he regretted--at least not on a day-to-day basis. “I have never had to deal with the problem of a public persona becoming more important than the fiction,” he once said in a Times interview.
Distance, in fact, was something Moore required in both art and life. The site of the seaside house at the northern reach of Malibu, which he and his wife shared for more than 30 years, was “perfect for a writer,” Moore once told a friend. “It’s not so far out of town that you can’t get in if you really need to,” he quipped, “but much too far out ever to be asked to lunch.”
“I’ve been very lucky,” Moore once told a Times interviewer. “I’ve always been known among literary people as a writer’s writer. I’ve always been able to have my books published, writing exactly the book I wanted to write without any commercial consideration. And, ever since I started, I’ve always made a living purely from writing.”
Moore is survived by his wife and a son, Michael. Funeral arrangements are pending.