As an expatriate of long standing Brian Moore felt that younger authors with in-situ experience would probably write about the troubles in Northern Ireland in a more meaningful way than he. Then he was caught in a bomb scare and found himself evacuated from a hotel with a coach-load of French tourists   ….. The next thing said tourists find themselves in the midst of a similar situation within his 1990 novel,  Lies of Silence.

Imagine yourself plumetted into the following nightmare scenario: your wife is held hostage while you are forced to drive a bomb in your car to your place of work.  If you raise the alarm she will be executed.  This is the unthinkable situation in which Moore places his protagonist, Dillon.  But to complicate the issue, this happens on the very day that Dillon has earmarked to leave his wife.  Another complication: Dillon is apolitical, unhappy about the situation,  but definitely anti-violence:

Dillon felt anger rise within him, anger at the lies which had made this, his … birthplace, sick with a terminal illness of bigotry and injustice, lies told over the years to poor Catholic working people about the Catholics, lies told to poor Catholic working people about the Protestants, lies from parliaments and pulpits, lies at rallies and funeral orations, and, above all, the lies of silence from those in Westminister who did not want to face the injustices of Ulster’s status quo.

So, what would you do in Dillon’s situation? And which choices does he make?   I can’t possibly tell you what happens except this traumatic incident paves the way for a second half in which tension subsides but terror becomes insidious. 

Moore pulls no punches and Lies of Silence, while set specifically in his home town, adds up to an absolute condemnation of terrorism of any kind.  Written in (unputdownable) thriller form, there were those who felt that he was demeaning his subject.  I disagree. The immediacy of the writing allows the reader to feel Dillon’s fear, experience his panic, make the same mistakes?

Lies of Silence is more than a thriller – it’s a literary offering as evidenced by its Booker shortlisting (losing, in the end, to A S Byatt’s Possession).  What makes it literary? The quality of the writing, the assurity of pitch and pace, description and dialogue,  the flesh and blood of its characters.  Moira, Dillon’s wife is a complicated creation.  She is the one who raises the questions of courage, who refuses to kow-tow to the bullies. For that is how Moore pictures the terrorists – badly-educated, mean-spirited bullies.  But he reserves his scorn for the apologists – in this case a weasel of a priest who seeks to prevent justice being served.

Published in his 69th year, Lies of Silence shows absolutely no sign of Moore’s pen mellowing with age.   While that may have dismayed many at the time of publication, it ensures that the novel remains fresh, pertinent and (even if the situation in Northern Ireland is now radically different)  relevant to today’s reading audience.

(Originally posted on TheMooreTheMerrier 7.01.08)

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