Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Never forget Banville!

After the exhilaration of McCarthy and before broaching the ‘Great American Novel’ [aka Franzen’s Freedom], I thought I would do a quick Banville, so to speak!   Personally I think Banville is not only our greatest living novelist but way out of the league of anyone writing in the UK today.   So long as Banville is writing, Beckett will never be dead.

I picked up Athena which I first read seventeen years ago and am now even more excited by it.   Athena is the third in a loose trilogy [Book of Evidence and Ghosts precede it] in which the narrator, Freddie Montgomery using the pseudonym Morrow, an ex felon, now an art critic, is involved in a shady plot to authenticate a collection of fakes.   One can see why Banville using an alter ego has turned his hand to crime writing as the plot in Athena cleverly hides all its clues in plain sight culminating in a delicious finale.

Morrow certainly has existential issues which make the reader query the substance of any of his narration but Banville handles themes of memory, identity and reality with masterly prose.  The entire novel has an oneiric quality.  The young girl, ‘A’, with whom he has a passionate affair, actually says at one point, ‘we’re just the same aren’t we, the two of us?   Hardly here at all’.   Banville juxtaposes this affair with Morrow's  relationship with an elderly aunt, Corky, thereby deepening the existential ambiguities.

Banville is a profound wordsmith and there are sentences, indeed pages, that one wants to read and reread for their sheer beauty.   [A dictionary in one hand and a Greek mythology in the other would not go astray!]   But, please, if you haven’t read Banville or not this one, do please!!

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