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An Irishman in Malibu

Copyright 1992 The Times Mirror Company Los Angeles Times

In 1964, when the Irish playwright and wit Brendan Behan died in New York of too much Drink, his countryman Brian Moore wrote, "The angel at the head of Behan's bed, the angel of death, was fame." That image, says Moore today, has stayed in his mind for the nearly 30 years since, a time in which he has written a dozen novels while steadfastly refusing to play the fame game. It's not that he has not known fame -- he has received numerous honors (his 1990 and 1987 novels, "Lies of Silence" and "The Color of Blood," were shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Britain's premier literary award) and accolades from critics and fellow authors. And he has had the sometimes dubious pleasure of seeing books (including "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" and, most recently, "Black Robe") turned into films. It's just that he doesn't live where he is famous. He lives here.

One week last fall exemplifies Moore's anomalous life. He was in Edinburgh for a reunion of the Scottish Arts Council International Fellows (who include Israel's Amos Oz, South Africa's Nadine Gordimer and Chicago's Saul Bellow), was recognized by a reader in a London bookstore and was feted at the Toronto Festival of Festivals (which premiered "Black Robe"). Two days later, he was back at his home high above the beach several miles north of Malibu, working in cherished anonymity on another film script and what will be, with any luck, his 17th novel.

Not bad for a guy who turned 70 in August. After all, he asks a visitor, how many men of his age can continue to work as he does? And how many, a visitor might add, can adapt their own books for talented movie directors by way of taking a break? How many have received mostly good, serious notices since their very first book? How many have managed to pass apparently unscathed through the literary gantlet of drink and bitterness and fame?

No, says Brian Moore, he's not complaining; he has had "a wonderful literary life." But literary lives, even the good ones, don't come easy. Like many writers, and emigrants, Moore has built his successes atop a foundation of perceived failures and has consistently renewed himself at the expense of past lives. Residing in the limbo of the self-exiled, he's a sort of literary explorer who, even now, bravely pushes himself into new terrain.

Born and raised in Ireland, a citizen of Canada, Moore has lived in California longer than in either of those places -- 25 years -- yet says he still has no sense of place here. And he remains torn: Place, he admits, is perhaps the question of his writing life.

"I often wonder what would have happened to me if I had stayed in Ireland and written about my own world all the time. And I'm going to die now not knowing if I made a mistake or not."

Just the same, when it's suggested to him that with "Lies of Silence" he's come full circle to the place of his birth, cold and grimy Belfast, he retorts, with the laugh of an Irishman living in Malibu, "Yeah, but I'm going to leave instantly. There's no way I'm going back to Belfast again!"

Sitting in Brian and Jean Moore's kitchen, surrounded by rough-hewn wood, terra-cotta tiles and colorful flowers in patio pots, and looking out on the Pacific, blue as the sky, it's difficult to envision the place and the people that he, and his fiction, sprang from. As with many writers, Moore has spent a lifetime trying to come to terms with both.

His father, James Brian Moore, was a surgeon already half-a-century old when he married a young operating nurse, Eileen McFadden, and then had nine children with her. Dr. Moore, though Catholic, came out of an Ulster Protestant background; he was Edwardian, severe and always wore a monocle, even in surgery. Mrs. Moore was, in contrast, "real Irish," from Donegal, and she had the language of Ireland -- not just the Gaelic but the wit and the "destructive tongue." (Moore quotes Dr. Johnson: "The Irish are a very civilized race -- they never say a kind thing about one another.")

Northern Ireland was just a year old in the summer of 1921, and the sectarian troubles that have plagued it since had just begun. On Aug. 25, Eileen Moore was full into labor with her second son when a nearby English regiment fired a sudden volley, and Brian (pronounced BREE-an) was born. They nicknamed him "bomb" -- prophetically, perhaps, as Brian would prove to be a bit of trouble.

The Moores lived downtown, in a large, narrow four-story stone house opposite the imposing Grand Lodge of the Orange Order, the center of the Protestant universe. From his attic bedroom, Brian could see the sky and a statue of King William of Orange on horseback, atop the lodge, waving a sword. One of Brian's uncles was the first commander-in-chief of the Irish Republican Brotherhood -- before the brothers became soldiers -- but it was, ironically, in front of the Moore home that the annual Orange Day parades began. With the Orangemen's huge drums, banged by big men with bare knuckles until blood ran down their arms, the parades were, Moore has said, a terrifying sight -- one designed to scare the hell out of the Catholics.

I said his past was difficult to envision, but not if you pick up one of Moore's early books. In "The Feast of Lupercal," for instance, you'll learn why Moore was so embittered by his early educators, the priests of Belfast's diocesan school, St. Malachy's. And in "The Emperor of Ice Cream," you'll find a young man rebelling against the religion, politics and mores of his autocratic father. A father who, in life as well as in fiction, saw his son as a failure.

Like the other men in the family, Brian studied medicine at Queen's University of Belfast, where his father served on the Senate; unlike the others, however, he failed the essential math exam. Their relationship was further fractured during World War II, when Brian joined the Air Raid Precautions Corps, whose uniform Dr. Moore considered to be British. Brian was 18 -- and their problems unresolved -- when his father died.

Moore, however, would try his best to make amends. In "Fergus," an Irish writer living with a much younger woman in a rented Malibu beach house is visited by the ghosts of his past:

He leaned his forehead against the cool glass, and as he did, sensed that his father had come up and was standing directly behind him. "You know very well," his father said, "that if I were around I'd be proud about your writing. I'd be pleased as punch. Hmm?"

It was true, he supposed. He stared, through the glass, at the sea.

"Yes, I'd be delighted about your writing," his father continued. "But your present life, well, that's another matter. Thank God I'm not around to make judgments on that. I should hope, though, that if I were, I'd be kinder to you than you are to me."

Which could be true. Penitent, Fergus turned from his inspection of the sea, ready to make some apology. But the room, behind, was empty.

Today, with honorary doctorates from Queen's and the National University in Dublin, Moore inspects the sea and says, "If my father had been able to hang around till he was 108, or whatever he'd be now, he would have been quite happy to see me."

He means, to see what he's made of himself.

The same week that sees the publication of "Harlot's Ghost" -- the 1,307-page CIA novel by the trumpeter swan of American letters, Norman Mailer -- finds Moore at work on the screenplay for "Lies of Silence." But what's working on him is the new novel, which isn't going well; he isn't sure whether it should be in first or third person, and he doesn't have the right moment of crisis. Moore lives for a good crisis.

"Novel writing," he says, "is like an addiction, and the secret is keeping it in your mind. Even when you're doing something else. Now, this undigested bit of novel is sitting in my stomach, no matter what I'm doing. I'll always be a bit unhappy that it isn't moving forward. But I really believe the secret of it is just keeping on writing every day, no matter if it's a good day or a bad day, just keep it going."

As anyone knows who has ever put finger to keyboard, that is easier said than done. Moore certainly knows -- he's struggled often, and he's witnessed the fall of many a good writer. He tells me that if his son came to him saying he wanted to be a novelist, he'd "shrink a little, because I've seen so many unhappy lives." It's a dangerous occupation, he says, in which you're constantly faced with the specter of failure. So he knows that he's accomplished something, but -- and maybe it's because, as he notes, he comes from a country of writers -- there's an amazing lack of pomp or pretense.

In stark contrast to others. A recent magazine article on Mailer includes a photograph of a figure one might think was a king of some mythical country: "Mailer on the beach in Provincetown (Mass.) with members of his family," reads the caption. There he is in all his scruffy immensity, hand in belt like an oversized Al Bundy, surrounded by his current wife and a few children (whose assorted mothers are dutifully noted in the caption). It's a smug little tableau befitting a royal family, heirs to the Hemingway throne, and if that sentiment isn't driven home by the picture, one need only look at the headline: "The Old Man and the Novel."

Brian Moore is a small, nimble man who writes small, finely crafted and quietly intelligent books; his family -- a second wife, a son by the first -- is not difficult to keep track of; he does not write advertisements for himself. He is the anti-Mailer. believes that far too much attention is focused on the wrong side of being a novelist. "Because we live in a society where everyone has to be a star, the good writer who has very small sales and is only known in literary circles tends to have trouble getting published. Whereas the most enormous, boring phonies who are on talk shows all the time become leading writers."

That Moore unostentatiously goes about the difficult business of writing novels in a society that glorifies celebrity helps explain why you might not have heard of him. Beyond nearly universal praise for his clean, lucid prose, his storytelling gift, his almost eerie ability to get inside the heads of his characters (men and women) and his courage in raising moral issues as well as pushing his imagination into new realms, there is one sentiment that repeatedly appears in reviews: "Perhaps this book will get him the recognition he deserves." On that point, the critics have never been right.

Moore claims not to mind. "I've been very lucky," he says. "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."

What he's not saying is that each year he and Jean pile a few suitcases into the trunk of their ancient Mercedes (which they bought from the actor Robert Taylor) and head off to the airport and Europe -- where they care.

In Britain, the Booker Prize is treated much like the Academy Awards are here. The six finalists appear on national television, there's a big dinner attended by the prime minister, bookies take bets. In 1990, Moore was favored to win with "Lies of Silence" and received most of the attention, but lost out to A. S. Byatt and her book, "Possession." Still, for the first time in his career, a Moore novel made the bestseller list -- in England, where it sold an impressive 40,000 in hardcover (as compared to 20,000 in the much larger U.S. market).

At the core of "Lies of Silence," as in all of Moore's work, is a personal dilemma facing its central character, a Belfast hotel manager. That dilemma -- he wants to leave his wife for another, younger woman -- is magnified considerably when he and his wife are involved against their will in an IRA plot to murder a leading Protestant. Personal dilemma interacts with society's dilemma. Written as a thriller, "Lies of Silence" does what Moore wants each of his books to do: take the reader away from television, movies, maybe even his or her own life for a few hours.

No doubt the accessibility of both form and subject matter helped the sales in Britain, but there's also no question that Moore is simply taken more seriously by the average reader there. Nowhere is this reflected more than in bookstores. A phone call to Waterstone's Booksellers in London found nine Moore titles on the shelf, and probably more in overstock -- "We usually carry a full complement," said the clerk. A quick survey of some of L.A.'s best bookstores found an anemic selection; Book Soup, in West Hollywood, had a total of six copies of three titles; some had none.

"Nobody knows about me in L.A.," says Moore. "It sounds very pompous, but that's of no real interest to me. My whole game has been to live outside literary circles, because I think you get a lot more work done. You don't get involved with all these things that don't have anything to do with writing. That's the reason I've written 16 novels."

He's not completely isolated, of course, what with a number of friends in the film and art worlds (such as Australian actor-comedian Barry Humphries -- a.k.a. Dame Edith -- and art dealer Earl McGrath). There's the odd dinner party, but mostly he writes, reads, eats well, tends his wine collection, watches movies on the VCR and hits the sack early. And he travels, to visit such literary friends as the English novelist Julian Barnes, the Irish poets Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon, and the Irish playwright Brian Friel.

If Moore is at ease with his anonymity here, Moore-watchers, such as his former editor, Dutton's William Abrahams, and current editor, Knopf's Nan Talese, find it a little difficult. Abrahams says Moore is "the least recognized of the major writers of our time." Talese says she often has to remind people that he's the author of "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne," at which point they say, "Oh, yes!"

"He's not a mass kind of writer, for sure," adds Abrahams, who currently edits Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Flanagan, Pauline Kael and Muriel Spark. "He's not especially fashionable, he's an unpretentious writer, and he's like an independent -- he goes his own way."

Nor is he hip. There is experimentation -- two of his literary heroes are James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges -- but there's little Angst in his life or work, not the kind that fuels the reading habits of coffeehouse addicts. Nor is there the sheen of smug smartness preferred by the ponytail crowd.

A recent review of "Time's Arrow" by the very hip Martin Amis pointed out that "Amis is a better writer than novelist -- we read him for his language, and for his presence as an author -- that jousting voice, that glossy, contemporary, almost synthetic vocabulary. . . ." Brian Moore isn't very contemporary, isn't very glossy and isn't at all synthetic, but he's as good a novelist as he is a writer. And he's more interested in his characters -- ordinary people -- than in, he says coincidentally, "being the main character in all my novels, like Martin Amis."

Maybe the root of Moore's anonymity here is just that we Californians simply do not know, or care, who our novelists are. The Irish are very proud of their writers; on Moore's bookcase a framed photograph of a Belfast wall, on which someone has painted in large letters, "JUDITH HEARNE IS ALIVE AND WELL."I once saw similar graffiti in New York, quoting Beckett, but I've never seen -- and I doubt any of us will ever see -- any such thing in Los Angeles.

"My fear," says Abrahams, "is that if Brian had stayed in London he would have been a very important figure."

If it took a bomb to prod Brian Moore into the world, it took a bump to help move him into the literary world. A very big, very nasty bump. On the head.

After World War II, in which he served as an administrator across Europe and North Africa for the British Ministry of War, Moore returned to Belfast, only to rediscover the disappointment not only of his dead father and family, but within himself as well. "I suddenly realized that I was 24," he says. "I had no profession, I had no degree, and I said to myself, 'I could wind up a bank clerk.' " And so he immigrated, to Canada, where he was given a job tallying up equipment at a construction camp. A glorified bank clerk he was.

But by the early '50s, he was married and a reporter for a Montreal newspaper. He was fast, a one-man rewrite desk. But he'd been nursing a yen to write fiction, and when a friend began publishing novels that Moore didn't think much of, he sat down on his vacation and, at the rate of two chapters a day, wrote a couple of potboilers under the name Bernard Mara. Hardly Tolstoy or Joyce, but he learned the form of the thriller -- which would later be useful -- and he made enough money to quit his job and hole up in a cabin in the Laurentian Mountains to begin his first real novel.

He had decided he wanted to write about someone losing his faith but couldn't very well compete with Joyce and "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." He remembered the ladies who used to visit his mother for Sunday tea, one lady in particular whom he would fictionalize as Judith Hearne. Though he was rightly praised for having created a character far outside his own life, Moore didn't have to reach too far to portray failure and loss of faith; both were uppermost in his mind.

"When one is young, one wants to believe in something. And most of us, at some point in our lives, whatever it is we believe in -- politics or religion or even our own success -- is threatened, and we're forced to re-examine our lives and perhaps change directions. And it's that moment of crisis that I find very interesting."

The first half of "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" came quickly. "I wrote, ate canned foods, maybe had a drink, then went to sleep for a few hours, got up in the middle of the night and wrote again." But then one day Moore went for a swim in a nearby lake, and what occurred there he would use in the opening of his 1983 novel, "Cold Heaven":

She heard a motorboat, the sound becoming louder. She looked back but did not see a boat behind her. Then she looked to the right where Alex was swimming and saw a big boat with an outboard motor coming right at them, coming very fast. Of course they see us, she thought, alarmed, and then as though she were watching a film, as though this were happening to someone else, she saw that there was a man in the motorboat, a young man wearing a green shirt; he was not at the tiller, he was standing in the middle of the boat with his back to her and as she watched he bent down and picked up a child who had fallen on the floorboards. "Hey?" she called. "Hey?" for he must turn around, the motorboat was coming right at Alex, right at her. But the man in the boat did not hear. He carried the child across to the far side of the boat; the boat was only yards away now. "Alex," she called. "Alex, look out." But Alex flailed on and then the prow of the motorboat, slicing up water like a knife, hit Alex a sickening thump, went over him and smashed into the pontoons of the little pedal boat, upending it, and she found herself in the water, going under, coming up. She looked and saw the motorboat churning off, the pedal boat hanging from its prow like a tangle of branches. She heard the motorboat engine cut to silence, then start up again as the boat veered around in a semicircle and came back to her. Alex? She looked: saw his body near her just under the water. She swam toward him, breast stroke, it was all she knew. He was floating face down, spread-eagle.

Moore was taken to the Montreal Neurological Institute, very nearly dead. For some weeks, it was not known whether he would regain either his speech or his ability to write. But he did eventually recover, and when he left the hospital he did so with a new appreciation of life and an absolute certainty about what he wanted to do with it. He wanted to write novels.

Fueled by this new determination, he quickly finished his book, and nine months later, in 1954, having been turned down by a dozen U.S. publishers, it was accepted by the English publisher Jonathan Cape. Soon it was noticed by a young Atlantic Monthly Press reader -- his future editor, William Abrahams -- who recommended it for American publication.

"The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" was an instant and unequivocal critical success. And Brian Moore suddenly found that he had a new career as a writer. He received Guggenheim and Canada Council fellowships -- $6,000 and $12,000 respectively -- and went off to London (where he says he lived like a king, taking taxis everywhere) and to New York (where he settled).

Other novels -- "The Feast of Lupercal," "The Luck of Ginger Coffey," "An Answer From Limbo" -- followed. Setting a pattern he would stick to through the years, he gave each book a different setting -- Belfast, Montreal, New York -- and though they didn't receive the unanimous praise "Judith Hearne" had, Moore established himself as a singular magnifying glass to the human condition.

"The Emperor of Ice Cream" in 1965 in the New Statesman, in what may be the best analysis of Moore, the prominent English critic Christopher Ricks wrote: "Mr. Moore's (novels make themselves) accessible to everyone, not by offering different things to different men, but by concentrating simply, directly and bravely on the primary sufferings and passions that everybody feels. Of all our present novelists he is . . . the one whose books most immediately evoke and touch my private feelings and fears. . . . Kingsley Amis, not a lachrymose man, once paid R. S. Thomas' poems a tribute such as few reviewers feel it quite proper to pay: 'It is enough to say he often moves to tears.' The best moments in (Moore's) novels have such a power -- you have to pull yourself together. Agreed, it is a power that can often be felt strongly enough in bad films, but few good novels can do any such thing."

Maybe Ricks had seen the screenwriting on the wall, for Moore was receiving kudos not only from the literary Establishment but from other quarters as well. On the cover of a 1962 Dell paperback issue of "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" appear the words, "Soon to be a major motion picture."

It took 23 years to get Judith Hearne onto the screen, in the body of Maggie Smith. (Katharine Hepburn was set to play her for years, but actually out-aged the poor old thing.) Moore doesn't like the 1987 film. "This poor old spinster I had back in the '50s suddenly becomes a women's-lib figure who's strong and moves on.

"The novel is so depressing; there's no way you can lift that novel up. If you're going to make it depressing, make it depressing," he says, his voice rising with frustration. "Why shouldn't you make a film that's down? It's catharsis!"

We exchange a look that says we both know that (a) he's absolutely right, and (b) he's nuts. The only depressing movies the film Establishment is likely to make are depressingly bad movies. Moore knows from experience.

Back in the '60s, Christopher Ricks was not the only prominent Englishman who thought highly of him. Impressed by the dialogue in "The Luck of Ginger Coffey," Alfred Hitchcock asked Moore to come to Hollywood to write a picture for him. Broke at the time, Moore agreed. Though he would go on to write screenplays based on his own books, the disappointing result of this collaboration, "Torn Curtain," caused Moore to lose any desire to work again within the Hollywood system.

"The Hollywood writer, no matter how good he or she is, is a person under threat of being one of six writers on a project. And there's no way out of that. That's like washing floors to me. I'd get nothing out of it except the money -- like a charwoman."

What Moore did get out of the experience was a new home. For all his displeasure with Hollywood, California surprised him. "Europeans have no idea how extraordinary this place is. When I first came here, I went up to Big Sur and to Los Padres (National Forest) and I said to myself, 'This is really wild, spectacular country, fantastic -- it's not like Europe at all.' That was what I loved, and still love, the feeling of great space here and the fact that California is absolutely beautiful."

An even bigger surprise was that he found he was getting more work done here than back East. And though he was happy in New York, he decided to make the move.

California the state would not play a significant role in his fiction (only three books are set here), but California the state of mind -- its distance and differentness from everything Moore knew -- would. Fantasy and metaphysical inquiry began to color the books. Not fooling with the core of his talent -- mining the emotional center of his main characters -- Moore began to experiment with both form and plot. Mingling the lessons of Joyce and Borges, he kept his characters commonplace but put them in unique, often fantastic situations.

"Catholics" is a futuristic fable about a group of Irish monks who refuse to stop celebrating the Latin Mass long after Rome has abandoned it. "The Great Victorian Collection," written directly under the influence of Borges, is a strange tale of a man who dreams a wondrous collection of Victoriana into being, only to lose control of it, and then lose his grip; Moore wrote it as "a sort of paradigm of the literary life."

With "The Mangan Inheritance," Moore tried his hand at the Gothic novel; in "Cold Heaven," a dead body (Alex of the boating accident) disappears and the Virgin Mary appears. There were also "I Am Mary Dunne," written in first person from the point of view of a woman, and two realistic novels, the acclaimed "The Doctor's Wife" and an odd little gem called "The Temptation of Eileen Hughes."

Some of these books are less interesting than others, but Moore's ability to change direction from one novel to the next has always impressed critics, and undoubtedly depressed sales. He insists that his sole intention has always been to please neither critic nor reader, but himself.

"The great interest to me in novel writing is the interest I have in it. The reason I've tried so many different techniques has been because novel writing is a totally abnormal job. There are days when you get up as a grown man and you say: 'What am I doing in this room with this typewriter concocting stories?' That seems to be my only life. I'm not out fighting a war or having a love affair, but in this novel I'm trying something technically different."

It keeps him going, in other words. That and his interest in metaphysics, and that still-flickering flame of rebellion against his upbringing.

"I often write about things that I don't believe in just for the amusement or interest in thinking, 'What if?' Supposing there is another world around us that we're totally unaware of? My mother was always going off on pilgrimages to Lourdes, so (for "Cold Heaven") I said, 'Why not write about miracles from (the point of view of) a person who doesn't believe?' You know -- what if I saw the Virgin Mary?" He laughs. "I'd try to forget about it!"

The year "Torn Curtain" was released, 1964, the young Australian film director, Bruce Beresford, was working as a film editor in eastern Nigeria when a friend handed him a paperback copy of "The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne." Beresford remembers thinking that "it was one of the most brilliant books; I read every one of his novels from then on" -- including "Black Robe," Moore's 1985 novel about a French Jesuit's journey deep into the 17th-Century Indian country of Canada. "Never had a historical period been brought home to me with such immediacy," he says, "not in a novel."

Blackrobe is what the Algonquin Indians called the Jesuits; in the book, and in Beresford's fine film, the Blackrobe is Father Laforgue, whom a group of Algonquins agree to transport to an upcountry settlement. Laforgue's mission is suicidal. Even if he lives through the journey, he is to spend his life at a far outpost of Christendom, deep in the cold, unfriendly woods of what is now northern Canada. For Laforgue, there's no turning back. He has taken a solemn vow to save les Sauvages, a people who have no interest in, nor any need for, entry into heaven. His journey, literal and spiritual, is hell.

"Black Robe" seems to mark an interesting shift in Moore's work, from metaphysical themes to those of religion and sociopolitics. In "Lies of Silence" and "The Color of Blood" -- a taut little tale involving an assassination attempt on a Catholic cardinal in an unnamed Eastern European country -- the usual moral crises of the individual occur within the context of larger crises facing society itself. And Moore has managed stronger plots (a journey and two thrillers) without sacrificing his usual talents.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Neal Ascherson noted that "a great many ideas are carried by the characters of 'The Color of Blood.' Not for a moment, however, do they cease to be unpredictable, genuine human beings. . . . (Moore) shares with some other novelists who are Catholics (and some of the great Russians) the capacity to make characters who remain entirely convincing whatever burden of 'significance' they carry."

It seems that with every book -- triumph or not -- Moore reinvents himself, discovers new abilities and makes it look almost effortless. But effortless it's not. Four times Moore has gone some 200 pages -- a year's work -- into a new novel before abandoning it. The process can be excruciating.

"I'm miserable when I know that something's wrong but I haven't admitted it," he says. "Once I admit it, it's different." He uses a scene in "Black Robe" to illustrate, a scene in which Laforgue is abandoned in the wilderness by his Indian guide.

Laforgue watched him go. He remembered his days in the cloister, when he had read with excitement and dread of how Father Brabant had been abandoned at this point by Savages who had accepted presents and promised to accompany him. He felt a strange calm, the calm of knowing the worst.

"That's the feeling," says Moore. "There's a calm and you say, 'Right, that's over. Now, I'm going to start something else.' "

There's an old Irish notion: More books are destroyed in bars by talk than are ever written. So Moore won't be talking about the new one.

Well, maybe just a little. It's quite different from the last three, no surprise there, though it also deals with "a very political thing -- corruption. People come to power with the best of motives, but begin to see an image of themselves which is false and then believe the image. It's the voice of a man discovering about himself things that he didn't know were true."

At 70, Moore doesn't allow himself much in the way of looking back. He doesn't reread his books -- he knows the bad parts ("I'm not a masochist!") -- and for him retirement seems a synonym for nightmare. When it's suggested that he has a body of work that would give him the right to sit out on the patio staring at the sea for the rest of his days, he says with a characteristic earnestness and just a hint of irritation: "I'm not satisfied because I don't write the books to make them a body of work; I write the books to keep me interested. And I write the next book because I'm happy when I'm doing it."

Unhappy when not doing it, in other words. And with age, moreover, come new fears: "The thought of having a failing heart or a stroke or something, and not being able to write, that's very terrifying for me. I know I won't be happy just sitting."

But, he adds, a requisite for him has been a certain optimism, a feeling that he could go on and write another book. Luckily, it's a feeling he's had since he started writing novels. It carries him forward -- that and the ambition that got him here in the first place.

"Every novelist, including every great novelist, writes several books, and the strange thing is that perhaps only one or two of those books will live. The novelist never knows which one is going to live. And the thing that probably keeps the novelist going is that he or she might not have written that book yet. And you just wonder, have I written that book or have I missed that book or will I someday write that book?

"I've always had this in mind: If I could only write one book that would last 50 or 60 years or maybe longer, my whole life would have been really worthwhile."

"The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne" has been in print nearly 40 years. But, to use the last words of "The Great Victorian Collection," "The extent to which it will outlive the man who created it, or its interest to succeeding generations, is, of course, beyond the range of our predictions."

So, too, is Brian Moore's interest to this generation.