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En Busca De April (2010)

by Benjamin Black(Favorite Author)
3.57 of 5 Votes: 3
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review 1: “Benjamin Black” is the pseudonym for John Banville, a master of language whose serious works often complete for literary prizes.This is a hard bitten narrative with mesmerizing use of language. Black’s descriptions are wonderful, the second paragraph’s evocation of fog being among the best I’ve read, and fog becomes a leitmotif weaving its way throughout the entire narrative. Phoebe’s friend April has gone missing in Dublin. Phoebe elicits the help of their newspaper reporter friend Jimmy to help find her. By the fourth chapter it is also clear that Phoebe’s alcoholic father Quirke, a pathologist at the hospital where April is a physician, will play a critically important role. Sentences flow magically from Black’s pen, and the ebb and flow of tension is s... morekillfully controlled. His use of free indirect discourse provides sensitive insights into the psychological states of his characters. These are real people, entwined in the lives of each other, not simply cardboard cutouts.The book is an exploration of personalities and psychologies as much as a tale of the solution of a mystery. Black probes the ambiguities that are part of each of us, the ways in which we choose to fool ourselves, the darknesses that we try to hide and deny but that shape the way we are, who we are. Settings correspond with moods in such a way that it is clear that the circumstances we perceive around us are really those that we construct, our perceptions being the result of the personae we bring to the present. The narrative is compelling and haunting, nuanced and subtle, dreadful and invigorating. This is no tableau vivant but an experience that evolves, a metamorphosis that, rooted in psychic veracity, mirrors life as it is really lived. Issues of family are explored at several different levels, in a number of relationships. Race plays an important if ultimately peripheral role. Some might find the ending contrived, but it is consistent with the trail of clues that has been developed.Banville’s “serious” fiction has always puzzled me. His use of language is beautiful and compelling, but plot and characterization have always seemed strangely deficient, and when I finish one of his books I am flushed with pleasure but can never remember any details even two weeks later. This has always seemed to me to be a great strike against him, a weakness that keeps his writing from true greatness. Not long ago I watched him being interviewed on Public Television, and he described the meticulous and laborious crafting of language that he uses for his “serious” fiction vs the slapdash (my term) flowing and continuous writing of his detective novels. Reading the Benjamin Black book has revealed to me that Banville can in fact create credible characters and compelling plot. Why does he not, or why can he not, combine the two into a single style? Puzzling…
review 2: Many of the very best mysteries are profoundly political. In digging deeply into what makes their characters tick, the writers locate the roots of their class origins and the wounds inflicted on them by their families, their neighbors, and society at large.Not convinced? Think about the sociology underlying Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series . . . the vast power of the moneyed forces fought by V. I. Warshawski in Sara Paretsky’s novels . . . the legal battles between powerful institutions and hapless citizens in John Grisham’s work . . . the overtly political circumstances in John Sandford’s several dozen novels featuring Lucas Davenport, Virgil Flowers, and other protagonists.Now add the Quirke series by Benjamin Black, the pen name of the Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville. Elegy for April is the fourth of Black’s seven novels about the alcoholic Dublin pathologist named Quirke. (He has a first name, but we never learn it — just one example of the author’s sly humor.) The Quirke novels, all grounded in Dublin in the 1950s, explore the tight grip of the Catholic Church on Irish society and the crimes so often committed in her name. Quirke, though he has no official role as an investigator, is drawn into what usually prove to be murder cases by virtue of his family’s involvement. He collaborates with a senior police detective named Hackett, often outclassing him as an investigator.In Elegy for April, Quirke’s daughter, Phebe, complains that her friend April has disappeared. The story that ensues revolves around the young women’s circle of friends and April’s powerful and devout medical family, which includes Dublin’s leading pathologist (her brother) and the Minister of Health (her uncle). I won’t spoil the story by going any further into the plot.Though Banville insists he writes mysteries strictly for fun and profit, it’s clear that his famously brilliant literary style suffers not at all in the process. Here’s an example of what I mean: “he was received by the Minister’s private secretary, an oddly implausible person by the name of Ferriter, plump and shabby, with lank black hair and pendulous jowls.” Now, I ask you: how can any discerning reader fail to be charmed by prose like that? less
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Did not have the patience for more than a couple chapters.
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