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I read and admired a couple of John Banville's earlier gothic novels, but admiration isn't necessarily enjoyment and I'd felt no great compunction to read the successors. His facility with the genre was impressive enough but the form is so dark and claustrophobic that the exercise couldn't help but wear thin. When critics opined that his latter few were -- perhaps inevitably for a serious Irish author -- influenced by Joyce, Beckett, Proust and company, it only made him all the easier to ignore. Descending into willful obscurity is certain to win literary prizes but pretty much designed to thwart readership. But when word came that he was turning his hand to a series of mysteries, written under a quite public pseudonym for some reason, it seemed likely he could redeem himself. After all, he'd shown himself to be an able imitator and the police procedural would give him an opportunity to expand his horizons, with an investigation touching upon multiple layers of society and presumably a varied cast of characters. Alas, at least in this first entry that's not the case.

The sleuth here is Dublin pathologist Garret Quirke. Returning to his morgue somewhat drunk one night, he finds his foster brother, Malachy, fiddling with the paperwork on a dead young girl, Christine Falls. As he begins looking into the circumstances of the girl's death in childbirth he is, unfortunately, drawn deeper into his own background -- having been taken in as a child by Malachy's powerful father -- and a conspiracy involving the Catholic Church and the city's political elites. Mr. Banville chooses to turn the narrative so far inwards that the only way you know this is a mystery rather than one of his typical novels is because of the publicity attendant on its publication and that celebrated adoption of a nom de plume. It's not that this is not a good book in its own way, just that it's a disappointing one. One begins it hoping for an expert turn in the mystery genre but finds just another gothic melodrama. Hopefully the subsequent books in the series will drop the psychological scab-picking and Church bashing and Mr. Banville will extend himself and his vision a bit.


Grade: (C)


See also:

John Banville Links:

    -John Banville (Wikipedia)
    -CONTEMPORARY WRITERS: John Banville (British Arts Council)
    -AUTHORS: Banville, John (The Guardian)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: John Banville (
    -John Banville (the Internet Public Library, Online Literary Criticism Collection)
-ESSAY: JOHN BANVILLE: HOW BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA BECAME A SURPRISING, DEATHLESS CLASSIC: More than a century later, the novel still invites revisits and reinterpretations. It's also much stranger than you might remember (JOHN BANVILLE, 10/22/21, CrimeReads)
   -ESSAY: The Haunted Imagination of Alfred Hitchcock: How the master of suspense got his sadistic streak (John Banville, April 1, 2021, The New Yorker)
    -INTERVIEW: John Banville Confronts Benjamin Black: …. or how an alter ego explains things to a noted author. (John Banville, 4/13/07, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: Beauty, Charm, and Strangeness: Science as Metaphor (John Banville, July 1998, Science)
    -ESSAY: Destination: Ireland: To touch the heart of Dublin and the country beyond, look to James Joyce's "Dubliners," the poetry of Yeats and a comic masterpiece by Flann O'Brien. (John Banville, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Pulp Valentine: Donald Westlake's Parker novels are a genre of their own. (John Banville, 5/24/06, Slate)
    -ESSAY: The Insider: I blame Agatha for turning me to crime (John Banville, 11/02/2007, The Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: Bloomsday, Bloody Bloomsday (John Banville, June 13, 2004, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Painful Comedy of Samuel Beckett (John Banville, 11/14/96, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: The Human Stain (John Banville, 9/30/04, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Vaguely European: The continental European novel is in poor health. Nobel prize winner José Saramago is one of the few who can still make it fly (John Banville, February 2001, The Prospect)
    -EXCERPT: from Christine Falls
    -ESSAY: Homage to Philip Larkin ( John Banville, 2/23/07, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Omens and poetic licence : John Banville describes the "angel at his back" moment when he decided to plunder the lives of Louis MacNeice and Anthony Blunt to create Victor Maskell (John Banville, February 25, 2006, The Guardian)
    -BOOK CLUB: A novelist of ideas: Readers at the Guardian book club asked John Banville to explain why he avoids taking on recent social history (March 4, 2006, The Guardian)
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of The Sea by John Banville
    -ESSAY: A room full of violence, and the silence of death: As Tate Modern unveils its new Rothko Room, Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville reveals the story behind the paintings it contains, and reflects on one of the most compelling experiences to be had in any gallery in the world (John Banville, 05/06/06, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of House of Meetings by Martin Amis (John Banville, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe by Michael Frayn (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Everyman by Philip Roth (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Beckett Remembering, Remembering Beckett, edited by James and Elizabeth Knowlson (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion by Charles Townshend (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed by Simon Blackburn (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment by James R Gaines (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions by John Gray (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967 by Rachel Cohen (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Hollywood Animal by Joe Eszterhas (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Small Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the Race to Split the Atom by Brian Cathcart (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles by Michael Wood (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Isaac Newton by James Gleick (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of On the Natural History of Destruction by WG Sebald (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Nobody's Perfect: Writings from the New Yorker by Anthony Lane (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Evelyn Waugh: A Biography by Selina Hastings (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: John Banville (Granta)
    -INTERVIEW: John Banville, The Art of Fiction No. 200 (Interviewed by Belinda McKeonISSUE 188, SPRING 2009, Paris Review)
    -ARCHIVES: John Banville (London Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: John Banville (New Republic)
    -ARCHIVES: John Banville (The Nation)
    -ARCHIVES: John Banville (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: John Banville (Daily Tellegraph)
    -ARCHIVES: "john banville (Find Articles)
    -PROFILE: Meet the other half (TOM ADAIR, 10/21/06, The Scotsman)
    -INTERVIEW: 14th time lucky : He's regarded as a 'difficult' author whose work is unknown beyond a few thousand enthusiasts, but John Banville defied the bookies to collect fiction's biggest prize. He tells Emma Brockes, October 12, 2005, The Guardian )
    -PROFILE: John Banville: 'I give an impression of knowing about real life. But I don't': The Irish novelist on this year's Man Booker shortlist (John Tague, 11 September 2005, Independent)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with John Banville (Don Swaim, Wired for Books)
    -INTERVIEW: with John Banville (Ben Ehrenreich, The Believer)
    -INTERVIEW: with John Banville (Elegant Variations)
    -INTERVIEW: My week: John Banville, Booker Prize winner: John Banville talks to Alastair Sooke about the build-up to winning the Booker Prize ( Alastair Sooke - 15 Oct 2005, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: As Clear As Mirror Glass (Shane Barry, June 2005, Three Monkeys)
    -INTERVIEW: John Banville: "...a blessed world, in which we know nothing except through style..." (Ron Hogan, 1997, Beatrice)
    -INTERVIEW: Oblique dreamer: The protagonist of Eclipse, the Irish writer's latest novel, is a self-made man, an artist, in the throes of a middle-age crisis. Does this sound familiar? (September 17, 2000, The Observer)
    -ESSAY: Style and substance: on John Banville's use of the first person narrative (John Mullan, February 18, 2006, The Guardian)
    -ARTICLE: Booker winner to write thrillers under pseudonym (Sarah Crown, October 21, 2005 , Guardian Unlimited)
    -AWARD: Man Booker awarded to literary tale of grief and memory (Sarah Crown, October 10, 2005, Guardian Unlimited)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of 'Christine Falls' (KATHRYN HARRISON, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Slate) -REVIEW: of Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (Adam Woog, The Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Sue Turnbull, Sydney Morning Herald)
Gore Vidal did it as Edgar Box; Cecil Day-Lewis did it as Nicholas Blake; Julian Barnes did it as Dan Kavanaugh; and now John Banville is doing it as Benjamin Black. Writing crime fiction, that is, under a pseudonym.

This sparks the question, why the need for an alter ego? What is it about writing crime that inspires an author to the kind of subterfuge immediately undercut by a frontispiece that tells the reader that Benjamin Black is, in fact, the pen name of "acclaimed" Man Booker Prize-winning author, John Banville? Does this nom de plume signal an intention to "write differently"?

Not being a Banville aficionado, I'm hardly qualified to judge, but I can report that Christine Falls is definitely by the same author as The Sea. For a start, there's the same exquisite attention to Proustian sensation invoking lost childhoods, lost women and missed opportunities. Characters are mired in a past that haunts them and which they can never fully expiate, despite their obsessive introspection.

    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Michael Dibdin, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Chuck Leddy, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Daniel Fierman, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Patricia Craig, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Jeff Baker, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (John Freeman, Newsday)
    -REVIEW: of Christine Falls (Mark Rozzo, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea by John Banville (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea by John Banville ( TERRENCE RAFFERTY, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
Any one of these novels would have been a worthy recipient of Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction. Instead, the judges last month awarded the prize to John Banville's novel "The Sea" - a stilted, claustrophobic and numbingly pretentious tale about an aging widower revisiting his past.

Mr. Banville - the author of such earlier novels as "Kepler," "The Book of Evidence" and "Ghosts" - has always been a highly cerebral author who emphasizes style over story, linguistic pyrotechnics over felt emotion. His novels have tended to be willfully lapidary works, filled with dense, pictorial descriptions and recondite words and allusions: think of a self-conscious attempt to wed Joyce to Nabokov to Wim Wenders.

"The Sea" is no exception: it's a book that traps the reader inside the gloomy, narcissistic mind of its narrator, Max, subjecting us to his tendentious thoughts on everything from freckles to women's feet to the philosophical "otherness of other people."

    -REVIEW: of The Sea (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea (Sue Arnold, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea (Nikki Tranter, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea (Fintan O'Toole, The Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of The Sea (Lewis Jones, The Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Shroud by John Banville (Bruce Bawer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Shroud (Lisa Allardice, The Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Shroud (David Robson, The Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Shroud (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer )
    -REVIEW: of Shroud (Alex Clark, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Eclipse by John Banville (Jim Shepherd, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Eclipse (Chloe Diski, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of The Untouchable by John Banville (Patrick McGrath, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Prague Pictures by John Banville (Michael Hofmann, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Prague Pictures by John Banville (Tim Adams, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Prague Pictures by John Banville (Elena Lappin, The Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of April in Spain by John Banville (Justin Warshaw, TLS)
    -REVIEW: of The Singularities by John Banvile (Richard Lea, TLS)
    -REVIEW: of The Singularities (Luke Warde, Independent ie)
    -REVIEW: of The Singularities (Amanda Holmes Duffy, Washington Independent Review of Books)

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