He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect, he did not attend university. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family.

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Banville seems to understand effort. However, there is a fairly thin line between "marvelously descriptive" and "tediously overwritten". Thus: the plot. A semi-crooked man with a shady past who narrates our story is recruited by even shadier people to authenticate some paintings they have stashed away and are probably not planning on selling to the local gallery. Meanwhile, he runs into a woman and becomes obsessed with her, despite knowing absolutely nothing about her, not even her name.

Oh, and his aunt is sick. Yet Banville manages to make it all compelling through the use of his prose, which seems determined to plunge the reader into a languid, dream-like affair, held together by a narrator who seems to drift in and out of his own story, sometimes settling into a scene with a startlingly concrete presence, and other times anchored to absolutely nothing at all.

Thing is, he could be lying. Which it does. And when the vague hints of something bad about to happen linger for too long and start to lose their edge, maybe some police inspectors can come by, or we have some fun with his dying aunt.

In a sense it becomes not unlike a playland created by children under a blanket, where every fold can bring about another scene no matter which way you turn, held together by a playful dream-logic where everything makes sense because absolutely nothing makes sense. But it hardly matters. The images linger, like being surprised that a hand pressed that lightly into skin can leave such a mark. Skill and craft do count for something.

If I tried to write a story based on this plot, it would come across as an inept documentary put together by well-meaning preschoolers.


John Banville




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