Beleaguered Belfast in Poetry and Prose

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BELFAST CONFETTI. By Ciaran Carson, North Carolina: Wake Forest University Press, 108 pp., $8.95 paper LIES OF SILENCE. By Brian Moore, New York: Doubleday, 197 pp., $18.95.

THE muse of Belfast has not been silent. In his version of Dante's "Inferno," Seamus Heaney compared the North Ireland city to Pisa; the cities share interminable fratricide. Derek Mahon has written eloquently of Belfast's "Augustinian austerities of sand and stone." Most recently, Ciaran Carson has published a book of poems about contemporary Belfast. "Belfast Confetti" refers to the small bricks used in riots there. Carson's lanky verses and prose poems have made poetry out of the scary complexities of the distraught city.

And now a prose artist of the first order has painted a portrait of the city. Brian Moore left Belfast in his early 20s, 50 years ago. He has become known as the novelist's novelist. He writes with superb impersonality. This time he has chosen the suspense novel form to reveal the character of his Belfast.

Belfast's troubles began in the 17th century, when British and Scottish plantation owners became the Irish equivalent of South Africa's Afrikaners or the American South's plantation owners.

Moore's portrait of Belfast is of a city divided against itself. It's embodied in two individuals, Michael Dillon and his wife, Moira. Both are Catholic. A failed poet-turned-hotel manager, Michael hates Ireland; Moira won't live anywhere else. Michael married Moira for her beauty; three years later, her unhappiness, and her bulimia, have become acute and symbolic of the Irish problem. Michael falls in love with Andrea, a young Canadian from the BBC, and is about to tell Moira he wants a divorce when they are surprised one night as they are preparing for bed. …


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