About a decade ago, a group of readers from the Palimpsest forum decided to undertake a joint Mooreathon – to read and review all 17 Moore novels. Like many projects, the inital flurry of enthusiasm (documented on a separate site ) proved unsustainable in the face of life, competing priorities, and all those other books. However, I remain determined to complete the project, even if it is almost 6.5 years since I last read Moore and I need to live until I’m 150 ….
#NYRBfortnight is the perfect excuse to restart the project with his novel from 1979, The Mangan Inheritance. At 336 pages, it’s one of his longer novels, and it does take a while to get going, and a bit of determination to keep reading. But it grew on me with a wallop in the resolution that … well, everything in due time.
Jamie Mangan, a former poet with promise and now lacklustre journalist, is married to the brilliant young actress, Beatrice Abbott. He lives in her shadow, more a Mr Abbott than a Mr Mangan. So when she leaves him, his loss of self is complete. When he finds a antique daguerrotype – the man in the photograph is a spitting image of himself and suspected to be a famous Irish poet – he sets off on a quest (financed by an unexpected windfall) to find his ancestors and, hopefully his own identity.
Arriving in December, the contrast between the rural village of Drishane and the New York of his married life could not be starker. For starters all the guest houses are closed for the season. The lodgings he does find leave much to be desired, as indeed do his living relations, obviously living in reduced circumstances: the hard drinkers; the small man, Conor and the beautiful, flame-haired Kathleen; the sobers, sullen Dinny and his frequently institutionalised mother, Eileen. All are surprised, some are disconcerted by Jamie Mangan’s looks, and none are willing to help his research into family history. There are memories that they obviously do not wish to disturb.
But Jamie Mangan’s role here is that of the outsider sent to stir up that which has been buried. And as the quester, he must succeed. Yet, perhaps he would have preferred failure. The identity he had been seeking, one he would rather not have found.
The signs were there from the start: the delapidated, gothic mansion he stays in, and the reputation of James Mangan as an infamous poéte maudite. This moral dissolution runs in the family line, passing through the generations along with the looks of the man. There have been other poétes maudites since. The current one – and he takes some finding – the most dissolute of all. Is this the Mangan Inheritance that Jamie had been hoping for?
Jamie seems to be a decent bloke, and yet there are elements of his behaviour in Ireland that are questionable. Seeds of dissolution, if you will. Enough to make him question himself, and recognise that following his poetic inclinations would not be the romanticised path to fame he imagines. Nor is his staying in Ireland good for him, or the mental health of his relatives. Or anyone, I might add. Moore’s portrait of life there is far from flattering.
So, it is with a sense of relief that Jamie returns stateside, where a further unexpected inheritance awaits him. It is for him to determine whether it will break the mould of the one he found in Ireland.