Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Brief notes on starting a Banville novel

John Banville is one of my favorite writers, and I've just started reading his novel, Shroud. He's one of the few authors that I felt like I discovered for myself--I picked up Eclipse in a bookshop, drawn to it, I guess, by the title, or the cover picture of a blindfolded man, I don't know. The front cover blurb comparing him to Nabokov certainly didn't hurt. I read the first page; liked what I saw; took it home. Upon reading the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In short order I also read The Book of Evidence and The Untouchable (the latter of which I read under the influence of a great, sleepy fog, effectively dampening the book's effect; it deserves a re-read). In anticipation of the American publication of The Sea (anticipation stoked, in part, by enthusiasm from another admirer), I went back and re-read The Book of Evidence (converting my wife in the process; she enjoyed this book quite a bit--perhaps the only book blurbed by both Don Delillo and Ruth Rendell? Rendell is her favorite mystery writer) and acquired and read both Ghosts and Athena, its sort-of-sequels, both of which were excellent.

The beginning of Shroud finds us in similar territory as his other books: the unreliable narrator who tells us he is a liar; chewy, vivid language (as ever, I am impressed by his prose style); moving back and forth in the story's timeline. And common concerns recur: the problems of memory, of consciousness, of what constitutes the real. Similar images appear throughout the books; for example, there is often a body of water (or a sky) the color of lead, and there's the recurring idea of the real self struggling to get out, to spread its "sticky wings" as one novel has it, or as in Shroud, from p.27:
...what made me flinch, surely, was an over-consciousness of self, the sudden, ghastly awareness of being trapped inside this armature of flesh and bone like a pupa wedged in the hardened-over mastic of its cocoon. Immediately, again, came the demand: What self? What sticky imago did I imagine was within me, do I imagine is within me, even still, aching to burst forth and spread its gorgeous, eyed wings?

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