Archive for the ‘Moore, Lisa (2)’ Category

Trevor reviews Caught, by Lisa Moore

October 26, 2013

2013 mooreTrevor has posted his review of Caught, by Lisa Moore (click here for his full review) so all three Shadow Juror blogs have now looked at that novel. Scroll down for the first paras of Kimbofo’s review and links to both her full review and mine. Here is how Trevor starts his thoughts:

On to my third book of this year’s Giller Prize shortlist, and again I find myself confronting a familiar name: Lisa Moore. Her books Open and Alligator were each shortlisted for the Giller Prize, and her previous novel February was longlisted for the Booker Prize. So her name is familiar to me, but I have never read any of those books. And while I enjoyed Caught (2013), I’m afraid it’s not a book that makes me anxious to go read more Moore.

I’m surprised I didn’t like Caught, actually. It was one of the titles on the shortlist I was most looking forward to. A seasoned author writing about a fated criminal. But there was something in the gravity of Moore’s prose that didn’t fit. I’ll try to explain.

But first, a bit of the setup: The book begins in Nova Scotia in 1978. On the evening before his twenty-fifth birthday, David Slaney is escaping from a prison where he’s been for four years on drug smuggling charges. As he makes his way from the prison, he knows he needs to run but feels he should stay still, and vice versa he knows he needs to stay still but feels he should run. Certain he’s going to get caught, he’s amazed that he actually gets away. On the outside, his old friend Brian Hearn has set up an escape plan, and they’re planning to meet up again to do one last big job: two-tons of marijuana from Colombia to Canada.

Hot on his tail is Officer Patterson. In fact, we soon learn that the police are trailing Slaney — let him escape successfully, in fact — so they could catch their bigger prize: the friendly, deceptive Hearn.


Kimbofo reviews Caught, by Lisa Moore

October 25, 2013

2013 mooreHere are the opening paragraphs from Kimbofo’s review of Lisa Moore’s Giller shortlisted novel, Caught. You can find her full review here — KfC’s appeared a few months back and can be found here.

If Lisa Moore’s latest novel Caught was a film it would be described as a “road movie”.

Indeed, as I read it I couldn’t help thinking that it had all the right ingredients for a Hollywood blockbuster — a young prisoner on the run, a down-at-heel cop on his tail, a pretty girl (or two or three) and an ambitious pot-smuggling plan involving sail boats, hurricanes and all manner of dodgy drug runners — but as a novel I struggled to properly engage with it. Throughout its entire 326 pages, I felt as if I was an observer and not a participant.

The book has a dramatic opening. It is June 14, 1975 — the eve of David Slaney’s 25th birthday.

He has just escaped prison and is heading to Guysborough, Nova Scotia, where a fellow prisoner has arranged a room for him. He hitches a ride with a trucker bringing a shipment of Lay’s potato chips to Newfoundland, and, keeping his head down, he slowly makes his way to Montreal and then Vancouver.

But his ultimate plan is to head to Colombia to finish the task that landed him in prison in the first place — smuggling two tons of marijuana into Canada.

His success is wholly reliant on meeting up with Brian Hearn, his childhood friend and partner-in-crime, who jumped bail last time round and has reinvented himself as a PhD student.

And it will also depend on evading capture, which is where a third character, Patterson, comes into the story. A jaded staff sergeant in the Toronto Drug Section, he has been passed over for promotion too many times but has been promised an advancement if he can nab Slaney.

Caught, by Lisa Moore

August 19, 2013

Purchased at

Purchased at

We meet Slaney sliding down an embankment beside a Nova Scotia highway. It is about three in the morning — one hour (and he figures about two miles) after he escaped from Springhill Prison where he has spent the last four years on a drugs charge. He was determined to get out before his twenty-fifth birthday and he has made it, by a single day.

Slaney figures the authorities will count on him to head west, as he eventually will. But for a start, in an arrangement put together by a friendly fellow con for a price, he is waiting for a transport truck carrying Lays potato chips that will first take him east some miles to Guysborough. He intends to hide out there for a few days in a room above a bar owned by the con’s grandmother, before beginning his westward journey.

He’d broken out of prison and he was going back to Colombia. He’d learned from the first trip down there, the trip that had landed him in jail, that the most serious mistakes are the easiest to make. There are mistakes that stand in the centre of an empty field and cry out for love.

The largest mistake, that time, was that Slaney and Hearn had underestimated the Newfoundland fishermen of Capelin Cove. The fishermen had known about the caves the boys had dug for stashing weed. They’d seen the guys with their long hair and shovels and picks drive in from town and set up tents in an empty field. They’d watched them down at the beach all day, heard them at night with their guitars around the bonfire. The fishermen had called the cops.

Lisa Moore has a deserved reputation as a Newfoundland-based literary novelist — her most recent, February, won this year’s Canada Reads competition and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Two previous works, Alligator and the story collection Open, made the Giller longlist. The opening to Caught suggests that she is moving from “literary” to “crime” in this work.

That impression changes early on, however, when the reader is introduced to Patterson, a middle-aged staff sergeant in the Toronto Drug Section, as he arrives in Nova Scotia. He has finally been promised a promotion, but it is contingent on him arresting the Hearn mentioned in the excerpt above. Knowing that Slaney will hook up with Hearn, the authorities have “allowed” his escape and intend to track him.

Patterson’s first contact is with a truck driver who had picked up Slaney early on in his journey west to catch up with Hearn in Vancouver:

Where’s Slaney? Patterson said. The guy flicked the billfold closed and put it back in his pocket.

I picked him up. We were together a good three hours. I had him.

He’s gone, Patterson said.

I stopped to get gas, the man said. A few snacks. I come out and he’s gone. The only thing I can figure, there was a station wagon on the lot when I went into the store and I guess he got a ride with the lady. Housewife, it looked like. All I can tell you. He was willing to have me take him to Montreal, drop him off where we said. But I come out and he’s gone.

Without giving too much away, Caught will follow Slaney’s journey to Montreal where he also hides out for a bit, west to Vancouver where he finds Hearn to get details on this latest plot to bring weed from Colombia, a sailboat voyage to Colombia itself. All of that fairly conventional crime novel fare. The novel’s plot makes extended stops along the way as Moore works on developing Slaney, the character, as opposed to Slaney, the dope-runner — old girl friends, new ones, remembering his past all feature in these.

I don’t read much crime fiction but will confess to an affection for the more literary versions — regular visitors here will know my enthusiasm for Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels. In all crime fiction, there needs to be a careful tilting of the balance between “crime” and “character”. Conventional novels in the genre lean on the former; literary authors who venture into it successfully emphasize the latter (Tom Ripley is far more interesting than his crimes in all five Ripley novels).

For this reader, Lisa Moore’s problem in Caught is that she never finds that balance. The novel bounces back and forth between the two — as much as she tries to develop Slaney, Patterson and the rest of the cast as characters, the plot demands of telling the crime side of the story keep intruding in often lengthy, all too obvious, episodes. The result makes for a frustrating read: extended bursts of predictable action followed by sections focused on character development with the two threads never really successfully coming together.

I will qualify that assessment with the observation that prize juries (and other readers) often find more in Moore’s work than I do. I have read all three of her prize-nominated works and none of them rated more than “okay” with me — all promised more in the description than they delivered in the reading. As we await the fall lists for Canada’s key literary prizes we shall see if that holds true for Caught as well. Lisa Moore is a talented enough wordsmith whom I am sure is capable of producing an excellent novel — Caught is not it.

February, by Lisa Moore

June 17, 2009

mooreLisa Moore is a Newfoundland-based novelist who has attracted substantial attention in Canadian book prize circles despite have only published three books. Her second volume of short stories, Open, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. Her first novel, Alligator, was also Giller shortlisted and won the Canadian-Caribbean section of the Commonwealth Prize. So when word went out that her second novel, February, would be a story based on the tragic sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig in 1982, many Canadian readers — including this one — awaited the book with anticipation.

The Ocean Ranger disaster took the lives of all 84 men on board. Throughout its history, Newfoundland has been accustomed to the sea claiming its men — in some ways this (entirely preventable) tragedy was a reminder that while the world and Newfoundland’s economy has changed, the destructive power of nature and the ocean has not changed at all.

Moore’s central character, Helen O’Mara, lost her husband of eight years, Cal, in that sinking. She was left with three children, five, six and seven years old, and another on the way. While all that happened many years ago, the author tells most of the story from a viewpoint 26 years later in 2008, with periodic flashbacks to 1982 and even earlier in Cal and Helen’s relationship.

Helen is still haunted by the loss — while Moore never actually says it, it is hard not to assume that Helen has thought about it every single day since. Life has been lonely throughout that quarter century, but has become even more lonely since her children left home. At least when she was rearing them, Helen had something to pay attention to. Now, even though her three adult daughters have remained in St. John’s and are nearby, that loneliness has become even more oppressive and her memories even more haunting:

Her black cardigan hanging on the closet door. Always there is that high-pitched terror when the phone rings at night: Is someone hurt? Louise (her sister) has had a few scares with angina. An ambulance last winter. Helen is frightened of the phone.

Her cardigan looked like a presence, a ghost. She was old, after all, and yes, years had passed. The bed flying over the edge of a cliff and a siren ringing out across the water and her body seemed to fall at a slower rate than the bed and she felt the bed hit with a plosh and then she hit the bed and began to sink, but it was just the phone, not a siren. The phone. Answer the phone. I’m certainly not old, she thought, snatching the receiver before she missed the call.

The phone call that provokes this is from her son John, the most independent and rebellious of her children, the only one who has not fallen into a “traditional” Newfoundland life. He is a consultant with a firm that specializes in reducing costs for energy firms by “rationalizing” their safety procedures, eliminating the waste of both time and money (the irony is rather crude). He is phoning from Singapore where he has just got a call from Jane Downey, a woman with whom he had a one week fling in Iceland, has not heard from since and who has just called him to say that she is seven months pregnant. John is headed home, he is not sure to what.

Moore does keep both these story lines going in the present, interspersed with flashbacks centred around Helen’s married life, the Ocean Ranger and the days, months and years immediately following the disaster. It is an awkward structure but she does make it easier to follow with helpful subheads that introduce each section with both subject and date.

I will admit I had problems with both Open and Alligator and have the same problems with February. For this reader, Moore’s books have a lot of breadth and not a lot of depth. She loves description, she loves a geographically roaming narrative (this book goes to Florida, Greece and Mexico in addition to Singapore and New York). I find it distracting and as the book goes on increasingly annoying — given the recognition her previous books have received it would seem that other readers don’t find this to be the case.

Consider this example. It is a description of Jane’s academic work for her master’s thesis where she studied the street people of New York City:

But she had learned things she didn’t put in the thesis. The street people had frightened her. Some poor people were right-wing and violent. Some were avaricious. They were hungry and cold. They had runny noses and glittery snot-caked sleeves. They ate with their mouths open. They had glazed eyes and addictions. They were illiterate and they had lice. Or they were brilliant and meticulous with their appearance and saintly. They could see ghosts. They were fair-minded. They shared what they had. They had nothing. They fed the pigeons. They were full of wisdom. They were full of worms. They were full of AIDS. They were spiritually bereft. They were luckless. They were a they. Best of all, they knew the scope of a single lifetime and how not to make a mark.

Jane is a minor character in the book, not fully developed, and that section is the only reference to her work in New York. The novel has numerous other similar digressions, most of which feature the same clipped sentences and shotgun prose that that quote has. It wouldn’t be so bad if these flights reflected on the author’s central themes — instead I can’t help but wonder if the author is using them to avoid fully addressing and developing those themes or, worse yet, doesn’t know how to do that.

I plead guilty to having a preference for depth over breadth. I would make the same criticism of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger and it won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Certainly, it is consistent with Lisa Moore’s style in her previous books — I’ll just have to acknowledge that writing which disturbs some readers like me is attractive to others.

Lisa Moore deserves credit for taking a significant, tragic event and examining how it wounded and effected not just individuals, but an entire community — some of the best parts of the book are the sections describing what it was like in St. John’s immediately after the Ocean Ranger tragedy. I would have liked more of that. For me, February ultimately fails because it does not deliver on that promise.

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