‘I am Mary Dunne’ by Brian Moore

I am Mary Dunne covers a single day in the life of Mary Lavery, née Dunne, ex-Mary Bell, ex-Mary Phelan. She’s currently married to her third husband but can’t help remembering events from the past even though she has trouble with her memory. Brian Moore is a new favourite author of mine but I was a little wary of this one at the beginning as he adopts a first-person narrative where we are dropped straight in to the confusion that is Mary’s life; but Moore handles it really well and although it takes a little while to work out which husband is which and who all the other people are in Mary’s life Moore slowly reveals the details so that we can begin to make sense of her life. Within the first few pages of the book Mary recounts her morning visit to a beauty salon where the receptionist forgot Mary’s name but when she asked Mary for it Mary’s mind went blank until she gave her name as Mrs Phelan, her name from her first marriage. Then upon leaving the salon she was stopped in the street by a smiling man, a stranger, who said ‘I’d like to fuck you, baby’ and then walked off leaving Mary stunned then angry. It’s not a great start to the day.

Mary is currently living in New York but she’s originally from Montreal, Canada. Her current husband is Terence Lavery, a British playwright, and as the novel unfolds it seems that she’s finally settled on a man whom she truly loves and who loves her. But she always feels that she’s playing a part; with each husband she has had to act differently.

I play an ingénue role, with special shadings demanded by each suitor. For Jimmy I had to be a tomboy; for Hat, I must look like a model; he admired elegance. Terence wants to see me as Irish: sulky, laughing, wild. And me, how do I see me, who is that me I create in mirrors, the dressing-table me, the self I cannot put a name to in the Golden Door Beauty Salon?

She doesn’t quite know who she is. With each husband she feels that she has to be different. Even when she changes jobs she feels that her identify has to be detroyed and re-created. She feels that she is split into three Selfs: Sensible Self, My Buddy and Mad Twin. On the day of the novel she is mostly possessed by her Mad Twin self. And she’s a bit of a blabbermouth, she says things before thinking through the consequences.

I am, always have been, a fool who rushes in, a blurter-out of awkward truths, a speaker-up at parties who, the morning after, filled with guilt, vows that never again, no matter what, but who, faced at the very next encounter with someone whose opinions strike me as unfair, rushes in again, blurting out, breaking all vows.

This confession comes when she’s relating a visit from an old gent who is looking to rent the flat while she and her husband are going to be away. She notices that his clothes are a little shabby and recognises him vaguely from somewhere and more or less accuses him of casing the joint. Emabarrased, he tries to leave, but Mary (Mad Twin Mary), realises that she’s made a mistake, chases after him to try to apologise even though it’s too late. It turns out that he’s lonely and just likes looking around rich people’s flats and meeting people.

During the novel we find out more about Mary’s past, her family and her previous jobs but the stand-out scenes for me are the two times throughout the day when she meets up with old friends. First she meets up with her old friend from Montreal, Janice Sloane, who’s in New York for a few days. This lunch scene is very amusing, right from the start there’s a mix up over the restaurant they’re going to. Throughout the lunch they end up revealing things about each other that are surprising and hurtful. They talk, then argue then make up. The second scene is at the end when she gets a phone-call from an old friend, or rather an old friend of her second husband, who wants to meet up with her. His name is Ernest Truelove (is Moore trying to signal something here?) and he has dinner at the Lavery’s apartment, gets increasingly drunk, makes some startling revelations and makes a complete ass of himself. Moore’s characterisation is brilliant here as although Ernest appears at first to be an obnoxious caricature, introduced for comic effect, he gradually becomes more realistic and, although he’s still a ridiculous character at the end, we begin to empathise with him. Here’s a quote from a section from the end of the novel, after Ernest has told his story.

    There, in the dining-room, amid the wreck of dinner glasses, dishes, wine bottles, there settled on all three of us an instant of total immobility, as though the film of our lives had jammed. We sat, frozen in stop frame, until, suddenly, Ernie’s head jerked forward and he turned to me, his face screwed up in a painful parody of a boy’s embarrassed grin. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I guess I have finished. Eh, Maria? Golly, I’ve gone and done it again. Made a fool of myself, imposed on people’s kindness, irritated the people I most want to be friends with. You and Terence. Golly.’
    Having castigated himself, he, like all those people who are quick to apologize, considered himself at once forgiven. He grinned again and said, ‘What a horse’s ass I am. I’ll bet that’s what you’re thinking?’

I am Mary Dunne is another great novel by Moore. I have also read The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and The Feast of Lupercal which were both excellent novels.

This was read as part of the 1968Club challenge.



Filed under Fiction, Moore, Brian

14 responses to “‘I am Mary Dunne’ by Brian Moore

  1. Glad you found another one to read for 1968 – and Moore’s writing has been very highly recommended so I shall have to look out for it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I’ve enjoyed every book by Moore so far. I think you’d like his work, it’s very much character based. If you only read one book by him then ‘Judith Hearne’ is probably the one to choose. I remember seeing and liking the film starring Bob Hoskins & Maggie Smith.

      I am reading another book from 1968, Paul Bowles’ Pages from Cold Point, but won’t finish it in time and wouldn’t be able to write a review until next weekend anyway. It’s nothing special though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this years ago and you’be reminded me of how much I loved it. Moore is such a great writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great choice 😀 and possibly the rest great novel I can think of where PMT plays such a great role (well, ignoring that truly obnoxious book by Lawrence Sanders in which it drives a serial killer)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Yes, I started to mention the references to PMT in my review but decided to remove it as I thought it was a distraction. I didn’t think it added anything to the novel. Do you think Mary is using it partly as an excuse?


      • I’m a Moore fan too. I have this one but haven;t got to it yet. Highly recommended: The Doctor’s Wife

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jonathan

        I have a copy of The Doctor’s Wife here. It would probably have been my next Moore book if it hadn’t been for the 1968 Club. I also bought a copy of Cold Heaven yesterday from my local secondhand bookshop which had a whole load of other Moore books—I really had to restrain myself; but I may be back there next week.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I made a conscious decision to exclude that too – at the time it was clearly a novelty and I thinks in the fabric of the book but hard to analyse in terms of her make-up admittedly. I was glad it was properly mentioned, regardless of whether she uses it as a crutch, excuse or otherwise. Her acknowledging of it seemed plausible to me (as a non sufferer)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jonathan

        I read a few of the reviews of the book on GoodReads before I bought the book and quite a few of the reviewers thought negatively of Moore for having his character mention it so much. But Moore is a very empathetic writer and the last person whom I would think would just lazily add it as a character trait.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The 1968 Club: Come and Gone | Intermittencies of the Mind

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