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Old 5th Jun 2007, 21:46   #11
m.
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

I still have problems with organizing my thoughts on Judith Herne, but as I hoped, other Palimpers’ posts have given me some direction... After reading John’s post I realised that I didn’t really know if I agree or disagree with his opinion “always pitiable, never really likeable”. I replied to that in my previous post, but I’d like to add a few words. I think saying that I rather cared about Judith than liked her really sums up my attitude to this character. Liking, I think, involves sharing some views, admiration of some kind, enjoying (or, with literary characters, imagining enjoying) somebody’s company – and I really can’t say anything like that about poor Judith. But at the same time, at the end of the book I felt real sympathy for her – not pity, which in my view always has a shade of contempt. It’s been a recurring thought in our discussions on the Palimp, that most of us don’t need to have likeable characters to like a book – but this novel goes a step further – makes you (well, me) care about a character who is deeply unattractive in many ways.* And all that is achieved by slow uncovering the layers of truths, delusions and entaglements. This book is a perfect illustration of the rather clichéd saying, that to understand all, is to forgive all – in this case, forgive Judith’s shortcomings. Or rather stop noticing them, because, firstly, I really don’t want to sound too high, secondly, it’s obvious that Judith is essentially a good person. (And yet, when I remember certain fragments - oh no...)

Before reading the book, I had quite a good idea what it was about and was waiting for the introduction of the main themes. I suppose for someone without any prior knowledge, Judith’s alcoholism, revealed only almost halfway of the book must be a major surprise. In most books, such retaining of the crucial information would be the author’s arbitrary decision, and irritate me a lot. Here it makes perfect psychological and narrational sense, though – when we meet Judith at the beginning of the book, she has just moved to a new place and she hasn’t been drinking for six months. The demon is hidden from the view and completely banished from the thoughts. She mustn’t think of it, because if she started wanting it, she’d have to have it and feel awful afterwards and be sick for days. Of course in that moment she was already thinking of it...


* I suppose some people could say something similar about Humbert Humbert, but now this is a character that I could only pity, nothing more.
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Old 5th Jun 2007, 22:12   #12
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

I'm wondering if I have under-rated Judith Hearne. is the same rating I gave Derren Brown's book... If I gave half stars it would definitely have got an extra half. Maybe it is really material. I'm not sure. I can't really think of anything wrong with it, and at its best it is quite exceptionally powerful... but I didn't thoroughly enjoy it as much as, say, The Luck of Ginger Coffey - perhaps because the latter deals with failure in a more ambiguous, sometimes-comical sometimes-moving way.

As for sympathising or not... I think my overwhelming feeling is one of pity, which doesn't (for me) necessarily connote contempt. It's more a sorrowful wide-eyed horror at the thought of a life really lived like that, and I suppose a gratitude that it isn't me. I don't think she's a bad person at all - she's just been stifled and stunted, wasted her life through her willingness to look after her aunt, her religion-inspired primness (not quite the right word but I can't think of another) and so on - all of which comes down to the social obligations of the time and of course the place, I suppose. When I read Moore's biography I probably will discover that it was intended as an explanation of what he hated about Northern Ireland - or any backwater, backward culture - when he left it.
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Old 6th Jun 2007, 11:18   #13
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

I gave the book for several reasons. Firstly, because it I felt that the writing was elegant. By elegant I mean that it was the opposite of clumsy - precisely expressed, and descriptive without being flowery and confused. Secondly, because of the impression of the story upon me - I found the depiction Judith Hearne's loneliness and religious crisis almost suffocating, which is evidently how Miss Hearne herself experiences it. I was very moved by the pathos of her situation.

m., I wasn't at all surprised by Judith Hearne's alcoholism, though I hadn't an idea of the story before I read the book. Or rather, I knew that there was a big surprise to be revealed, though at this point:
She mustn’t think of it, because if she started wanting it, she’d have to have it and feel awful afterwards and be sick for days.
I didn't know what it was. Alcohol was often mentioned, however.
In fact, looking at this sentence, it doesn't convey the horror of Miss Hearne's experience when she does drink - to do so would have been melodramatic at this point, and Moore does an excellent job of being controlled throughout.

I would describe my feelings in exactly the same way as JS. I pitied Miss Hearne, though I did not like her.

A stylistic aspect I particularly enjoyed was the repetiveness in the description. I don't have the book to hand, so can't point out the incidences, though I recall that Miss Hearne's aunt's picture is placed 'in the exact centre of the mantlepiece' rather a few times in the novel, maybe twice in the first chapter. I think this cleverly contributed to the sense of Miss Hearne as a very controlled character and initially I very much disliked her for just this exactness. I've also been thinking about the winking shoe eyes rather a lot, and I'd love anyone to shed any light on them. I would suggest that Miss Hearne feels watched - by the Sacred Heart, by her aunt's picture, by the other borders. The shoe eyes seem to be evidence of her introversion and paranoia - though Miss Hearne finds them comforting - so in fact, are these Miss Hearne's only benign observers?
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Old 6th Jun 2007, 12:44   #14
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

My copy arrived today... not going to read this thread though until I finish...
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Old 7th Jun 2007, 10:38   #15
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

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My copy arrived today... not going to read this thread though until I finish...
Great!

I also haven’t given Judith Hearne full five stars, and I’m also not quite sure why. At first I even hesitated between four and four and a half – and decided for the latter through reasoning: it truly moved me; I saw no faults in the story or writing, on the contrary, the story is plausible, the writing precise and effective. But there remains an illusive something that doesn’t let me give this book five stars. Maybe further discussion will help me understand what that is, or maybe it’ll remain a gut feeling. Anyway, I think Judith Hearne is much better than The Colour of Blood, which I read last year (the other two books by Moore I read too long ago to be sure of my opinions).

BeccaK, I suppose I didn’t express my thought well – Judith’s alcoholism isn’t surprising after it’s revealed, and I agree that the book builds up the expectation of something to be revealed, but there aren’t obvious clues that it’s going to be alcoholism. But maybe other people who join the discussion will prove me wrong.

Winking shoe eyes were for me just a technique to stop tears, so that Judith wouldn’t embarrass herself by crying in public. There’s something childish about it, and brings to mind a sad thought that Judith must have been doing that many times since she was a little girl. As to Sacred Heart and aunt’s picture, agreed – they seem to convey the idea that Judith always feels observed and judged. It puts the pressure on her, but at the same time it’s comforting in a way. When she thinks it could be otherwise – there’s no one who could judge her – she feels terrified.
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Old 10th Jun 2007, 22:48   #16
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

Such a good suggestion that we read this, m.. Initially, I wondered if it would be a mistake that hit too close to home. But after finishing what has to be Moore's masterpiece*, I'm thinking more of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair or The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong. And maybe a little relating to Desert Queen by Janet Wallach. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is such a sympathetic portrait of this desperate woman. Initially I found her small mindedness and defendedness disgusting, but as her story unfolds I was spellbound by Moore's capabilities at bringing me into honest to goodness affection for Judy. Becca, you're so right about the elegance of the style. It's crisp and clean as a newly starched tablecloth, isn't it? And I also agree with Megora's observation that the dipping in and out of perspectives is seamless and so readable that it isn't even visible as technique. It feels as though Moore has related what is essential about each character in such a manner that almost everyone is understandable. Except for Madden. Could that be maddening? Would Moore use such an obvious device? Doubtful. And the part of Madden that I didn't understand and perhaps had no business thinking about is his rape of Mary and how he very slightly alludes to possibly abusing another young woman, perhaps his daughter?

Quote:
O Christ, what did I do that for? What a shit I am, a nogood shit, will I never stop? Why did I, why did I, why did I...? And only a kid, she is, younger than Sheila, what age is she? I don't know, she looked older to me. Older than that, sure, sure. Christ, they should lock me up, I can't control myself. Like those guys you read about who - no, no, I'm all right, just normal, any normal man would take it if it was offered like that. And she won't tell. She knows what's good for her. She won't tell.
But fear ran through him like a sickness. Remembered fear. Somehow or other, sooner or later, they always did.
That is probably reading too much into Miss Hearne's tale. Then again, where is that vomiting smilie?

Desert Queen takes some liberties with diaries and description to spotlight the personal desperation of someone who was publicly successful but alone. I have no problem with desperation written well, but prefer to see it evenly distributed and attributed to more than just lack of marital status. As I wanted to take Gertrude Bell, the Desert Queen, into confidence and give her a shaking for her self-pity, I also felt the words (sorry bout this) "Ju-dy, Ju-dy, Ju-dy, it ain't all about men" ready to spring out at Miss Hearne. But my judgmental tendencies were stifled as she is so pitiable, so sad. Moore spreads Judith's desperation through all aspects of her life, not just her single status.

The last third or so of the novel reminded me of Karen Armstrong's Spiral Staircase as Armstrong, the young novitiate, feels that she is headed towards insanity during the period when she is losing her faith. Also of the resisting Maurice Bendrix at the end of Greene's novel. Judith Hearne's main crisis, imho, is not spinsterhood, or alcoholism, but the stuntedness that JS mentions as her lot in life for being a religious woman in 1950s Belfast.

Quote:
But she sat stiffly, terrified by the thing she had felt. For when the lights went out, it seemed as though the tabernacle were empty, a little golden house, set in the middle of a huge mantelpiece. It was as though the old sacristan, keeper of secrets, knew he had no need to genuflect again. The lights were out, the people had gone home, the church was closing. In the tabernacle there was no God. Only round wafers of unleavened bread. She had prayed to bread. The great ceremonial of the Mass, the singing, the incense, the benedictions, what if it was show, all useless show? What if it meant nothing, nothing?
Her loneliness might fade, her alcoholism might be treated, but there's no cure for the gleam of knowledge and realization that accompanies loss of faith for someone who uses it as a crutch instead of an ethical and moral touchstone. Judy is the most pitiful person, brought to life in the best sort of writing.

The humor all through the novel is wonderful. The general confessional chapter with the priest late for a golf game and his revenging rissoles...oh my.

*must read the others to be sure

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Old 11th Jun 2007, 5:56   #17
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

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Such a good suggestion that we read this, m..
Thanks Beth. I'm quite pleased with myself too, although mine was only the suggestion to start the discussion in June, and the book was originally proposed by John Self.

Now I've no time to reply, but I will later.
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Old 11th Jun 2007, 8:24   #18
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

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That is probably reading too much into Miss Hearne's tale.
I think it is! My take on it is that he only thinks of Sheila to make the point that Mary is 'young enough to be his daughter' - plus (but already the finer details are fading) in New York didn't his daughter Sheila end up in a relationship with a much older man, thus bringing the echo to him for that reason too?

To anyone for whom this was their first taste of Brian Moore: please don't stop there! He has much more to offer. See what m. and I (among others) have posted on the Brian Moore thread for more details...
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Old 11th Jun 2007, 18:14   #19
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

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I think it is! My take on it is that he only thinks of Sheila to make the point that Mary is 'young enough to be his daughter' - plus (but already the finer details are fading) in New York didn't his daughter Sheila end up in a relationship with a much older man, thus bringing the echo to him for that reason too?
I know Madden didn't like his son-in-law and sort of used that as an excuse to leave the states. I can't remember how old the son-in-law was, either. Madden was such a sympathetic figure until he rapes Mary. Then the axis of my sympathies turned solely to Miss Hearne. Even though Madden is atrocious, Moore treats him as kindly as he does Judith. In that respect, the author reminds me of Yates. Can't wait to read The Luck of Ginger Coffey.
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Old 14th Jun 2007, 21:52   #20
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Default Re: Book 32 - THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE by Brian Moore

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Before reading the book, I had quite a good idea what it was about and was waiting for the introduction of the main themes. I suppose for someone without any prior knowledge, Judith’s alcoholism, revealed only almost halfway of the book must be a major surprise.
It certainly was, yet I then remembered the twice down-in-one of the sherry on the Sunday at the O'Neill's, and thought, why didn't I pick it up then?

This book is excellent, by the way.
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