"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Sunday, April 22, 2012

John Banville/Benjamin Black: Christine Falls

When I went Up North a few weeks ago, I checked out Benjamin Black's noir novel The Silver Swan on CD from the library, so I could listen to it while I drove.  You may recall a previous blog post where I recounted my disappointment with it, save for the voice of Timothy Dalton, who I would listen to, no matter what he was saying.  He never really did it for me as Bond, but he's got a great voice.

Anyway, yesterday I finished Banville/Black's first in that series, Christine Falls (which came out in 2006), and my faith has been restored.  I mean, it's no secret that I have a fairly sizable literary crush on Banville, hence my terrible disappointment with The Silver Swan.  But Christine Falls did everything I was hoping for and more.  The setting--1950s Dublin--was absolutely more of a character on the page.  The morality and ethics and religion were definitely stronger players (with the appearance of a Magdalene Laundry).  Quirke was definitely more of an anti-hero here and I liked him better for it.  And it goes without saying that the prose was stunning.  I've got Elegy for April checked out from the library (paper copy) and I'm pretty excited to have time to read it.

Michael Dibdin of The Guardian has this to say about Christine Falls:  "It would be absurd to suggest that Banville writing as Black is better than Banville writing as Banville, but in a different and yet fascinatingly similar way he is every bit as good, and deserves to win a new, broader readership with this fine book. Crime writers have been moaning for years that their stuff never gets considered for the big literary awards; the possibility of competition from the other direction has been less discussed. If there's any justice, Banville should be able to add the CWA Gold Dagger to his heap of trophies, but I hope this doesn't start a trend. Life is hard enough for those of us who labour away down in the potboiler room without the toffs from the penthouse suites showing up and acting like they own the place."  (Click here for the full review.)

And Kathryn Harrison from the New York Times nailed down some essential elements of why I found this book to be particularly amazing:  "Mainstream literary novels succeed or fail on the strength of characterization, but noir fiction is less concerned with building complex and believable characters than with creating a medium in which murder and mayhem can thrive. Place is essential to noir, character less so. While the voluptuous atmospheric flourishes of “Christine Falls” suggest how much fun Banville is having as Black, they also provide the book’s center of gravity, the force that holds all the other elements together. Sometimes they make an entirely adequate cast seem little more than perfunctory."  (The entire review is great, so you should check it out.  Spot on.)

Of course, as I'm working on this Crime Literature class (and having more fun putting that together--even though I don't know what I'm teaching in the fall), I'm learning all this about crime fiction that I always thought I knew but couldn't put words to it.  The difference between an analytical detective (like Sherlock Holmes) and a hard-boiled detective (Sam Spade).  Hero, anti-hero.  Block elements.  The qualities of noir.  And it makes me feel exceedingly stupid when I realize there is this whole world of Irish noir out there, like I should have expected it.  But then, every time I discover something new in the world of reading, it's actually refreshing, because I'll never run out of books to read.  Or writers to be inspired by.  The list of books I'd like to teach in this class just keeps getting longer.

I don't really have much time for "fun" reading these days, so it was nice to take a break yesterday and spend some quality time with Banville.  Well, Black. But I definitely want to spend some more time considering the wide world of Irish noir.  I'm liking that world so far.

Awesome interview with Banville, on Christine Falls:

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