Bibliophoria: Brian Moore's Lies of Silence

By Kevin Rabalais

Late one night, the manager of a Belfast hotel receives an unexpected visit from the IRA. They’ve come, guns drawn, with an ultimatum: if Michael Dillon doesn’t smuggle a bomb into the hotel parking lot the next day—an act that will kill and maim dozens—the IRA will murder his wife.

Originally published in 1990 and nominated for the Booker Prize, Brian Moore’s Lies of Silence is a rare edge-of-your-seat novel that also provides a philosophical examination of private and public life during social turbulence—in this case The Troubles. While another great novelist might construct a gripping narrative solely around Michael’s dilemma, Moore tips the expected by unveiling his character’s decision near the outset. From there, the intensity increases.

Moore, the Irish-born author of Black Robe, The Statement, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and two dozen other novels, has been neglected since his death in 1999. He’s a master of pace and plot, and Lies of Silence—one of three of his novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize—proves a perfect place to either start or revisit the work of a writer who slides between psychology and action. Here, he writes about the morning after the IRA holds the Dillons hostage, when Michael, pondering his options, observes an elderly neighbor:

And now, watching him go off for this morning walk with his dog, Dillon felt anger rise within him, anger at the lies which had made this, his and Mr Harbinson’s birthplace, sick with a terminal illness of bigotry and injustice, lies told over the years to poor Protestant 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 Westminster who did not want to face the injustice of Ulster’s status quo. Angry, he stared across the room at the most dangerous victims of these lies, his youthful, ignorant murderous captors. What are they planning to do today, what new atrocity will they work at to keep us mired in hate?

On the night of the IRA’s unwelcome visit, Michael is on his way to devastate his wife with the admission of a long-time affair with a young woman he plans to whisk to London. Will the IRA’s threat to kill Moira become his seamless release?

The next morning, now fitted with the bomb, Michael spots a leading Protestant in the hotel. Will Michael become not only an unwitting terrorist but a political assassin as well?

Some books burn so quickly and brightly that we let them singe us in a single sitting. Lies of Silence will engage and haunt both dabblers and devourers of literature. Throughout the novel, you will race toward a final scene that is among the most haunting you’re likely to encounter. 


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