Friday, April 23, 2021

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne: Brian Moore

This year Cathy at 746books is hosting a year long read-along of Brian Moore’s work. She will be reading one of his books each month and will discuss it in the last week of that month. She has invited others to join in. The book for April is The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.

From the back of the book:

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an unflinching and deeply sympathetic portrait of a woman destroyed by self and circumstance. First published in 1955, it marked Brian Moore as a major figure in English literature (he would go on to be short-listed three times for the Booker Prize) and established him as an astute chronicler of the human soul.

Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.

The setting is Belfast in Northern Ireland, in the 1950s. Judith Hearne has just moved to a new room in a boarding house. Her lack of money is a problem. She lives on a small annuity from her aunt and doesn't have even enough money to buy enough nutritious food, which is affecting her health. She only gets breakfast provided at the boarding house and that is only toast, except once a week. She has no marketable skills, and makes a bit of extra money by teaching piano lessions. But she has lost several students lately.

Judith is desperate to find a man to marry. She alternates between being attracted to any available man and fantasizing about the possibilities, and looking down on those she is attracted to because they are too common. 

She has few friends and nothing to do in her life. She looks forward to visiting the O'Neill family each Sunday after church, and sees them as friends, but in reality they are just tolerating her out of a perceived duty. The O'Neill children laugh at her in secret and are rude in her presence.

At the new boarding house, she meets James Madden, brother of her landlady and recently returned from years of living in the US. Madden's goal is to open a diner, but he needs an investor to provide more cash. He sees Judith's jewelry and decides she has money to spare. Judith misinterprets his advances towards her and sees a future with him as her husband. They are both so eager to get what they want that they ignore the reality of the situation.

Judith is hard to like. She feels sorry for herself, ingratiates herself to others, makes up things to impress people, and she is overly concerned with what people will think of her. Yet she keeps trying, although she is delusional in her view of herself and her life.

My thoughts:

The book is beautifully written. It was amazing to me that a male author could tell this story of a woman's lonely life so well. The characterizations are lovely, from the in-depth portraits of Judith Hearne and James Madden, to the smaller but important roles of the landlady, her son, and the other boarders.

But the story is very sad and the book is painful to read. It held my interest, even as Judith wrestles with her religious beliefs at her church, but at no time was it a pleasant read. It is a perfect length, though (223 pages). I am glad I read the book, and I might even try a reread someday.

For further information on the Brian Moore at 100 Read-Along, check here


Publisher:  New York Review of Books, 2010 (orig. pub. 1955)
Length:      223 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Setting:      Belfast, postwar
Genre:       General Fiction
Source:      Purchased in March 2021.


Cath said...

I'm astonished that I've never heard of Brian Moore. I'm not sure this is my kind of thing, although I have read similar kinds of books occasionally. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym springs to mind, which is also quite a sad book about loneliness.

TracyK said...

Cath, strangely enough, I initially heard about Brian Moore via a Canadian blog, because he moved to Canada for a while, and became a Canadian citizen. Some of the reviews I read mentioned Barbara Pym in comparison, although they said her books had a different tone. He wrote different types of fiction. Some thrillers for example.

Cath said...

The thrillers might bear investigation then because I always like good writing. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was an annoying book for me *but* the writing was excellent so I have one of her crime series on reserve at the library and I think I might get on better with those.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love the book and the movie too with Maggie Smith.
Another book, also by a male author, in a similar vein is SLAVES OF SOLITUDE, set during WW 2 in England.
Both of them are so well done.
Brian Moore wrote some thrillers too.(under names Bernard Mara and Michael Bryan) He is a very eclectic writer

Neeru said...

I read this years ago and remember crying and crying. Very moving and tragic. I wonder why I haven't read any other of Moore!

CLM said...

This sounds SO disturbing but fascinating. I had not heard of him either. It sounds more like Edith Wharton than Barbara Pym to me. I like what the publisher did with the packaging.

Margot Kinberg said...

This does sound like such a sad story, Tracy. And that theme of self-deception sounds very well done. I might read it just for the literary merit, but I think I'd wait for a time when I'm ready for a sad book.

TracyK said...

Cath, I have enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series. The only one I haven't read is the latest book, which I do have on my shelves.

TracyK said...

Patti, I checked out that link at Amazon and the book does sound very good. Set in a boarding house and during World War II. I haven't read anything by Patrick Hamilton and that sounds like a good one to start with.

I do plan to find some of Brian Moore's thrillers also. Brian Busby wrote about those at The Dusty Bookcase blog (and in his book also).

TracyK said...

Neeru, it was just unrelentingly bleak and disturbing. I will be reading more by Brian Moore, and I will need to do some research on which ones to read first, other than the thrillers.

TracyK said...

Constance, I have not read anything by either Edith Wharton or Barbara Pym. I think I am more likely to give Barbara Pym a try.

I do like the cover on this one, although it took me a long time to see what it was (my old eyes I guess) and then to figure out what it meant.

TracyK said...

Margot, that is a good point. It definitely has literary merit, but it was so hard for me to read. Definitely sad and depressing.

Sam said...

I have to admit that I'm completely unfamiliar with Brian Moore's work even though I've seen some of them in bookstores from time to time. I enjoy "literary novels" like the one you review here, though, depressing as they sometimes can be, and Moore sounds like a writer I need to go back and educate myself many of those...and that's why I love reading book blogs so much.

TracyK said...

Sam, I don't have a lot of experience with Moore's books. I have read this one and Black Robe. And I consider both of them difficult reads, although very good. I intend to read more of his books and see how I like them. For many years I concentrated on mystery fiction, so now I am branching out and reading in other areas.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have read several others. We traveled a lot in Canada and picked them up. One I think you might like which is quite different than this is The Great Victorian Collection, which is a fantasy of sorts. But all of his books are good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Re: Hamilton. Hangover Square is also good, probably even more widely read than Slaves of Solitude.

TracyK said...

Patti, I saw The Great Victorian Collection on the list of his books and wondered what it was about. I did not know he had written anything close to fantasy. That is definitely one I will read. He won the Governor's General Award for English-language fiction for that book and for The Luck of Ginger Coffey.

I knew I had heard of a book by Patrick Hamilton before and it was Hangover Square. Sounds pretty depressing, but that's OK. I have not seen the film, but it is set in a different time period?

Rick Robinson said...

I am very unlikely to read a book which is described as “unrelentingly bleak and disturbing“, so this is one I’ll skip. Interesting cover.

TracyK said...

I did not think it would appeal to you, Rick. It was an interesting read, and encourages me to look for more books by this author.

col2910 said...

Unlikely as it may seem, I quite like the sound of this. I'll have to make a note.

TracyK said...

Well, it is set in Ireland, although I think the author wrote the book while living in Canada. He has written a lot of different types of novels and I will be trying more of them.