02 August 2021

Shorter Moore

Dear Departed: Selected Short Stories
Brian Moore
[Belfast]: Turnpike, 2020
102 pages

Brian Moore was first and foremost a novelist. He received Governor General's Awards for The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Great Victorian Collection, and was thrice nominated for the Booker. Dear Departed is the first collection of his short stories. Its appearance last year was so late in coming as to be unexpected. The publisher added to the surprise; there was a time in this country when a collection of Moore stories would have been published by McClelland & Stewart or Knopf Canada.

"Grieve for the Dear Departed," lends the collection its name. It was first published alongside Hemingway, Wilder, Frost, Thurber, and Dinesen in the November 1957 centenary edition of The Atlantic. In the story, a recently widowed woman grieves, but the dear departed of the title isn't so much the husband as the son who had left Ireland for a new life in the New World.

The longest and best of these short stories, "Uncle T," is one Moore salvaged and reworked from the aborted novel that was to have followed Judith Hearne. Vincent Bishop, newly married to Barbara, gazes out of their hotel room overlooking Times Square. The two met in Canada, to which he had fled from a future teaching secondary school in an Ulster town, "forty lumps of boys waiting at forty desks, rain on the windowpanes, two local cinemas, a dance on Saturday nights."

As a refuge, Canada was as good as anywhere. Vincent had applied for work as a clerk in the Shan State, a shipping aide in Takoradi, a plantation overseer in British Guiana, ending up teaching secondary school in Toronto. There's unstated irony in this.

Vincent is convinced Toronto is but a stop on the way to much greater things, and has convinced his bride as much. Uncle Turlough, whom he has yet to meet, has offered him a senior position with his New York publishing house.

There are elements of autobiography in these stories, particularly in the troubled relationships between fathers and sons. Moore described "A Vocation," the first story in the collection, as "about the only thing I can consciously remember writing about my early childhood.

Its first two sentences.
 In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was "No."
Biographer Denis Sampson tells us that "Off the Track," easily the darkest of these stories, reflects a holiday Moore and his first wife took to Haiti. "Hearts and Flowers," easily the lightest, was surely inspired by Moore's time at the Montreal Gazette. A Christmas story set in the "Old Bowerie Mission" (read: Old Brewery Mission), it's a mystery that it hasn't appeared in any collection of Canadian Yuletide stories.

Moore published only fourteen short stories during his lifetime, eight of which are collected here. Added to the remaining six are unpublished stories found amongst his papers. 

One hopes Turnpike is considering a second volume. The press is doing God's work.

Object and Access: A slim trade-size paperback. This collector placed an overseas order, hoping for a first edition. Instead, I received his:

Still, I was pleased to see it had done so well in such a short time.

McGill University has a copy.


  1. Given the book's shortness, it's surprising that all Moore's published stories at least weren't included. Was that because of copyright problems?

    1. I wondered that myself, Roger. It is odd. Even a "Collected Stories" would be one of his shortest books.

  2. I will definitely be on the lookout for this. Thanks for the review.

    1. A pleasure, Tracy. In this country, Moore's isn't getting the attention he deserves.