Poor Judith. That’s the only way I can think of her. I can’t remember the last time I pitied a character in a novel as much. And it’s not because she lives alone, it’s not because her looks lean toward the unfortunate, and it’s not because she spent years taking care of her sick aunt.
It’s because she doesn’t want to be alone. It’s because she tells herself stories that she is loved by the O’Neills, who she visits every Sunday afternoon, but really they call her “the Great Bore” and only put up with her because they pity her. It is because she tries too hard to put herself in the way of the only available bachelor in her boarding house. And it’s because she’s an alcoholic who tries to cover it up by telling lies to explain her hangovers and the raucous singing taking place in her room at night. (A habit she took up to comfort herself when she felt lonely.)
She lay back on the bed and the tears were in her eyes and her whole body was shaking. She mustn’t think of it, because if she started wanting it, she’d have to have it and feel awful afterword and be sick for days. No, no, she told herself, and looked up to the Sacred Heart for strength. He looked down, wise and stern and kindly, His fingers raised in warning. No, He said, you must not do it. It would be a mortal sin.
Throughout the book, Judith questions many things, including her faith, but above all this is a story about loneliness. How does one end up so lonely? What can the lonely do about their situation? And what happens to them; can you ever become unlonely? Alcohol becomes a comfort for Judith, but so does her denial of how lonely she is. I think she exhausts herself with all her moving from one place to another to cover up her alcoholism, and her efforts to act as though she is completely fine, thank you very much.
What will become of me, am I to grow old in a room, year by year, until they take me to a poorhouse? Am I to be a forgotten old woman, mumbling in a corner of a house run by nuns? What is to become of me, O Lord, alone in this city, with only drink, hateful drink that dulls me, disgraces me, lonely drink that leaves me more lonely, more despised? Why this cross? Give me another, great pain, great illness, anything, but let there be someone, someone to share it. Why do You torture me, alone and silent behind Your little door? Why?
Judith is not all pathetic; she’s independent; she has one good friend from school that she sees from time to time (the one who taught her how to drink); she may be desperate but she’s not stupid; and she likes to read.
The rain began to patter again on the windows, growing heavier, soft persistent Irish rain, coming up Belfast Lough, caught in the shadow of Cave Hill. It settled on the city, a night blanket of wetness. Miss Hearne ate her biscuits, cheese, and apple, found her spectacles and opened a library book by Mazo de la Roche.
I was surprised by how much I liked this book, despite the gloom. There is humour, even if it’s at the expense of poor Judith. I probably would have given this book 5 stars if it hadn’t been for the rape scene which I found upsetting, and which I think the book could have done without.
There is one chapter in the book that highlights the thoughts of the other people living in the boarding house with Judith – it gives us a little peek at what they’re like, as well as what they think about Judith and the man she’s set her cap for, the landlady’s brother who has come home after many years in the United States.
Ah, but you want to see the codology that’s goin’ on these days in my digs, yon big streel of a Yank I told you about and that ould blether of a Miss Hearne, the new one that just moved in, I tell you, you never seen the like of it, one ould fraud suckin’ up to the other and the pair of them canoodling, it would turn your stomach.
And then there’s the landlady and her despicable son, Bernard…
He was a horrid-looking fellow. Fat as a pig he was, and his face was the colour of cottage cheese. His collar was unbuttoned and his silk tie was spotted with egg stain. His stomach stuck out like a sagging pillow and his little thin legs fell away under it to end in torn felt slippers. He was all bristly blond jowls, tiny puffy hands and long blond curly hair, like some monstrous baby swelled to man size.
I greatly enjoyed Moore’s characters, be they lazy, miserable, grumpy, pathetic, or kind (yes, there’s a kind woman in this book!). Happily, Brian Moore wrote quite a few books for me to explore.
What is your favourite Brian Moore book? Have you been reading anything Irish lately?
Another review of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne at JacquiWine’s Journal: “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an outstanding novel (probably one of my top three for the year), but it’s also a devastating read. The characterisation is truly excellent, from the nuanced portrait of Judith, complete with all her flaws and complexities, to the immoralities of James Madden and Bernard Rice.”
Cathy at 746 Books read another book by Brian Moore this month – I Am Mary Dunne: “Brian Moore is regularly celebrated for his portrayal of complex women and I Am Mary Dunne cements that reputation.”