Books

Mirror images

THE MANGAN INHERITANCE by Brian Moore

Hubert de Santana September 17 1979
Books

Mirror images

THE MANGAN INHERITANCE by Brian Moore

Hubert de Santana September 17 1979

Mirror images

THE MANGAN INHERITANCE by Brian Moore (McClelland & Stewart, $12.95)

Brian Moore’s new novel is mined from very dark depths, and written with sustained intensity. There are echoes and resonances from Moore’s earlier fiction, but these are part of a process of continuation rather than repetition. Jamie Mangan, 36, is a Canadian of Irish descent, a failed poet, ex-newspaper reporter and part-time correspondent for the CBC in New York. His American wife, Beatrice Abbot, star of stage and screen, uses her vast income to manipulate people. When she leaves Mangan for another man, he tells himself ruefully that Beatrice is “one of the all-American winners. And if she ditches you, it’s because you’re a loser. A Canadian loser.” A marital paradigm of U.S.-Canada relations.

Mangan retreats to Montreal: “Canada: cruel landscape, its settlement a defiance of nature. Home.” Nearly 20 years after he wrote of Ginger Coffey’s experiences as a proofreader for the

Montreal Gazette, Moore returns to the offices of that newspaper. Jamie’s father is the managing editor, a man whose “way of dealing with people and crises was to be brusque, cheerful, a little distant...” There is an unusual mellowness in Moore’s treatment of the relationship between Mangan père and Mangan fils. It is free of the agony and psychological bloodletting of the father-son clashes in some of Moore’s other novels.

While going through some family papers in Montreal, Jamie discovers a daguerreotype of a man who is his exact double. It is tentatively dated 1847. Could this be the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan, “Europe’s first poète maudit,” who died in 1849? Jamie feels that if this link to the famous poet could be proved, it would revive his spirit. When Beatrice and her lover are killed in a car crash, Jamie inherits her money (she has not had time to change her will) and decides to go to Ireland to trace his forbears and identify if possible the mysterious doppelgänger in the daguerreotype.

When Moore writes about Ireland, anger and sorrow hone the acuteness of his observation. The hero of his 1970 novel Fergus called Ireland “a nation of masturbators under priestly instruction.” In this book Moore goes much further, and with uncompromising ferocity uncovers the ugliness behind the blue-eyed mask of charm and friendliness that the Irish present to the world. He reveals an insular, xenophobic people tormented by insanity, drunkenness, superstition, irrational violence and illicit passions that include incest.

Mangan’s relatives in the village of Drishane in West Cork are wild, slovenly and primitive. Nevertheless, Jamie becomes the sexual prisoner of 18-yearold Kathleen Mangan. In one of his harshest fictional portraits of a woman (Moore often pits strong women against

weak men), he draws her as a ruthless gold digger, with the face of a saint and the carnal skills of a whore. Yet she has suffered, too. What was the distant nightmare that so wounded her psyche that she has “turns” during which she screams dementedly? What was the unspeakable and bloody deed that haunts the Mangan house called Gorteen? The story has become a cautionary tale—by this time Moore has cast a spell that holds the reader in excited fascination, the introduction of the supernatural being another turn of the screw. The daguerreotype of Mangan’s double seems to become a thing of evil, an incubus: “his familiar, the companion of his journey, eyes glittering greenishly in the shimmering light from its delicate copper surface.” It would be unfair to give away any more of the plot. It is enough to say that the Mangan inheritance of the title is twofold: the $800,000 bequest from his wife and a sordid family history that contains “unnerving hints of prophecy” for Jamie.

As always, Moore writes superbly. This book is fraught with the subtlest ironies and felicities of language. It also has some of Moore’s most richly textured evocations of New York with its rain and neon hemorrhages, of Montreal and Ireland. His relentlessly truthful writing will not win him many friends in Ireland, but it will add cubits to his international stature as a novelist. The Mangan Inheritance is Moore’s best novel since An Answer From Limbo ( 1962 ) a work of art from the hand of a master. Hubert de Santana

change. After making hundreds of dollars in public-speaking contests with the likes of Ed Broadbent in high school, Marshall spent two years at the University of Toronto, skipping literature classes to play poker and bridge to pay for his “overpriced education.” At the age of 19, he married and went to work for Procter and Gamble; when he left, two years later, he was writing speeches for the president. In 1961, Marshall formed the first of several partnerships with producer Gil Taylor. They tried everything from concert production to a one-season stint at owning a nightclub in Jamaica. Their best remembered venture, however, was a feature film—Flick, as it was known in Canada where it flopped. In the U.S., as Victor Frankenstein, MD, it did a roaring trade at drive-ins.

In 1968, Marshall formed a new partnership with ex-architect Henk Van der Kolk, a production assistant on Flick. The two made a business of documentary and promotional films, enduring through Marshall’s longest formal sabbatical from film—three years as former Toronto mayor David Crombie’s $100-a-day assistant. (Marshall claims that winning the first election and troubleshooting at city hall wasn’t all that different from solving film production problems.) He and Van der Kolk burst into the big time two years ago with their first feature, Outrageous, the unlikely story of the friendship between a schizophrenic and a drag queen. They made the film on a prayer and $167,000—less than the helicopter bill in Apocalypse Now; with another $25,000 they sent Cohl to flex his muscles in the Cannes and New York markets. As legend now has it, the film premiered in New York to rave reviews— Cinderella cinema. The only wicked fairy was Toronto, with bad to indifferent critical response; to this day, Marshall is convinced that opening at home would have killed the film.

If there is any credo the film business holds dear, it is that you are only as good as your last film, and Marshall and Van der Kolk wasted no time in collecting the credit on Outrageous. Wild Horse Hank, filmed last summer with Linda Blair and Al Waxman, drew a healthy $1.35 million (U.S.) in television sales from NBC and Time-Life. The partners have also padded their future with a tidy, three-picture package worth $10 million: director Jules Dassin began the

first last month, Circle of Two, with Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neal.

Life for Marshall and many producers took an abrupt turn for the better when McCabe took over the CFDC last year. Making public his intention to limit support to development funding and to direct his long-term attention to producers with a healthy track record, McCabe removed the training wheels from what he calls “a small comfortable industry that was essentially a ward of

change. After making hundreds of dollars in public-speaking contests with the likes of Ed Broadbent in high school, Marshall spent two years at the University of Toronto, skipping literature classes to play poker and bridge to pay for his “overpriced education.” At the age of 19, he married and went to work for Procter and Gamble; when he left, two years later, he was writing speeches for the president. In 1961, Marshall formed the first of several partnerships with producer Gil Taylor. They tried everything from concert production to a one-season stint at owning a nightclub in Jamaica. Their best remembered venture, however, was a feature film—Flick, as it was known in Canada where it flopped. In the U.S., as Victor Frankenstein, MD, it did a roaring trade at drive-ins.

In 1968, Marshall formed a new partnership with ex-architect Henk Van der Kolk, a production assistant on Flick. The two made a business of documentary and promotional films, enduring through Marshall’s longest formal sabbatical from film—three years as former Toronto mayor David Crombie’s $100-a-day assistant. (Marshall claims that winning the first election and troubleshooting at city hall wasn’t all that different from solving film production problems.) He and Van der Kolk burst into the big time two years ago with their first feature, Outrageous, the unlikely story of the friendship between a schizophrenic and a drag queen. They made the film on a prayer and $167,000—less than the helicopter bill in Apocalypse Now; with another $25,000 they sent Cohl to flex his muscles in the Cannes and New York markets. As legend now has it, the film premiered in New York to rave reviews— Cinderella cinema. The only wicked fairy was Toronto, with bad to indifferent critical response; to this day, Marshall is convinced that opening at home would have killed the film.

If there is any credo the film business holds dear, it is that you are only as good as your last film, and Marshall and Van der Kolk wasted no time in collecting the credit on Outrageous. Wild Horse Hank, filmed last summer with Linda Blair and Al Waxman, drew a healthy $1.35 million (U.S.) in television sales from NBC and Time-Life. The partners have also padded their future with a tidy, three-picture package worth $10 million: director Jules Dassin began the

first last month, Circle of Two, with Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neal.

Life for Marshall and many producers took an abrupt turn for the better when McCabe took over the CFDC last year. Making public his intention to limit support to development funding and to direct his long-term attention to producers with a healthy track record, McCabe removed the training wheels from what he calls “a small comfortable industry that was essentially a ward of

the government.” With the new rules to the game came cries of foul play from those being squeezed off the boardcries that McCabe is rolling the dice for his favorites, grooming a small stable of successful producers. Marshall (as one of the successful) sees the policy as a necessary shakeout of the dilettantes: “It’s not a closed shop, but the great proliferation will fade away. The strong will survive and the rest will go back to counting beads.”

Not only is Marshall ready to play in international circles, he’s ready to grab some control of the game from the men who dominate the board—the U.S. major studios. Fed up with the stranglehold the Americans have on film distribution in Canada, Marshall and Van der Kolk joined forces last week with five other producers—Robert Cooper and Ron Cohen (Running), Robert Lantos and Stephen Roth (In Praise of Older Women) and Jon Sian ( Fish Hawk)—putting the finishing touches on the Producers’ Releasing Organization, a distribution company that will release at least eight pictures a year from its owners alone.

Happily ever after? There are many who find the Bill Marshall rags-toriches story a bit much to swallow. “Bill has accomplished a great deal and he’s bound to irritate people,” says Wayne Clarkson. “Film-making is always a battlefield. You’re competing for scripts, you’re competing for money, you’re competing for headlines. And when you win your fair share, somebody’s losing.” But it goes deeper than that. A phone call to a major film li-

brary for a file on Marshall provoked a curt, “I’m sorry, but Mr. Marshall hasn’t done anything of merit.” Marshall is a stone through the stained glass window of the shrine to Canadian film, the one that pays tribute on bended knee to the founder of the National Film Board, John Grierson. Marshall, now president of the Canadian Association of Motion Picture Producers, scoffs: “The old guard is in a rage about what happened to their place in the industry. The argument says, ‘Out of the hands of Grierson, into the clutching hands of the new breed.’ Grierson didn’t have anything to do with feature films; he was in documentaries and shorts. That was the only industry here in the ’30s and ’40s; it’s not the only industry now.”

Feisty and charming—and stubborn—Marshall has a hide as tough as his back talk. And deep down, criticism bores him: “People mistake self-confidence and assertiveness for blatant self-promotion. If I think something’s a good thing, it doesn’t matter very much if wrong-headed people try to stop mein fact, it probably helps.” Now the federal minister of health and welfare and still one of Marshall’s closest friends, David Crombie says: “There are three things to know about Bill. He is determined to enjoy life—that’s the prime mover. Secondly, he is irreverent about pomposity and pretension, including his own. And thirdly, he has an internal discipline that most people miss. He’s a man of substance.” Crombie checks his

list. “And he’s absolutely trustworthy.”

That trustworthiness must play a part in Marshall’s ability to master the perfect business marriage. The faith in these relationships—with Crombie, Clarkson, Van der Kolk—is measured by the absence of contracts. When city hall insisted that Marshall sign some document, Crombie devised for him a simple, “The mayor may fire me any day he wants.” Of all his partnerships, the one to his wife took the longest to consolidate. After 11 years of intermittent courtship, which included Jo Ann’s nine-month marriage to someone else, the two married this May on the stage at 21 McGill, a posh Toronto women’s club. Jo Ann, a part-time film editor and ex-model, says there are two things she is sure of about her husband: that he is driven by money and that he will never have a lot. “If there is any frustration right now, it’s because he’s so close to what he wants, which is to be a millionaire,” she says. “But I don’t think it will ever happen because his money will always be sunk in his next project.”

Running down a short list of Marshall’s past projects, it’s hard to find a connecting thread: macramé, raising rabbits, hydroponic gardening, a book on mood-modifying drugs. Right now he is writing an opera on the War of 1812, with Paul Hoffert, who scored Outrageous. Last spring McClelland and Stewart paid a six-figure advance for Dreadlock, a mystery he is co-authoring with writer Robert Miller under the joint pseudonym of Lew Anthony. Marshall disclaims any desire for large amounts of money. All he says he really covets are endless numbers of books— he reads 15 a week and as many scripts—and a personal assistant. “Once I make a brilliant decision, somebody has to make it take place,” he says. “I’m always appalled to find out that it’s me.”

In a life that changes tacks more often than a toy sailboat, there is one constant—producing films. Marshall swears he’s in it for good, certain that he has snatched the plum role: “There’s a great depth in producing pictures. I see directors as colonels in the army— they’re very good and they lead in the action, organizing attacks. I’d rather be a field marshal—grander strategy.” Somewhere in that strategy Marshall has plotted Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano and certainly some Fitzgerald-Tender Is the Night. But there is something in him that contradicts the notion of for-the-rest-of-my-life: “Some people seem quite lucky in that they can say 10 years from now I’ll be doing this. When I hear people talking like that I always listen very carefully because I wonder what secret they have learned that makes them so sure.”