The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore

‘The first thing Miss Judith Hearne unpacked in her new lodgings was the silver-framed photograph of her aunt.’

Miss Judith Hearne moves into a room in Mrs Henry Rice’s boarding house after her aunt dies and leaves her homeless. The setting is post-war Belfast and Judith Hearne is now in her forties. When she was younger, she gave up her job to look after her aunt. Her aunt, who lingered on through some years of dementia, her aunt who (Judith thought) would make provision for her. But Judith’s aunt D’Arcy would never discuss money, and a long period of illness has a way of making inroads into resources. Judith has an annuity of £100 a year:

‘… and nobody in the whole length and breadth of Ireland could on a hundred pounds a year nowadays.’

She also has a handful of students to whom she teaches piano.

The picture I have, in dull shades of grey, is of an unremarkable life lived within boundaries both imposed and assumed, and largely unquestioned.

 We learn that Judith has one social outing each week: a lavish afternoon tea with the O’Neill family who dread her visits (but could not possibly tell her so).

And into this dreary grey story comes James Patrick Madden, the brother of Mrs Henry Rice. A braggart whose self-importance catches Judith’s attention. She dreams of a relationship, while he sees a potential source of money to fund his investments. Self-delusion meets opportunism.

No, it does not end well. Judith is trapped in an unforgiving world, one keen to judge her. Not much compassion here for a woman whose life spirals out of control.

‘And now? 

What will become of me, am I to grow old in a room, year by year, until they take me to a poor-house?’

There is no beauty in this bitter story, just great skill in holding a reader’s attention while depicting various shades of grey in a life lived passively.

My thanks to Lisa, whose review led me to read this. Lisa’s review is at: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, by Brian Moore | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Jennifer Cameron-Smith