Tuesday, August 25, 2009

206. Shroud – John Banville

History: Published in 2002.
Plot: Axel Vander has a secret past, and a young girl has discovered his true identity, and they meet in Turin Italy where the shroud of jesus actually is supposed to be. It’s kind of unbelievable, but they actually have a small affair, because he is very old. But anyway, they do. I think she becomes pregnant even? And at the end she commits suicide by jumping off a ship headed for America, and has hidden the articles that his namesake wrote within a fountain pen that she sent him before she died. She is the daughter of another one of his characters, which I’ll find out more on when I read more Banville.
Review: Another Banville novel in which the past and reminisicing is the plot. Also, ''Shroud'' is the latest of several Banville novels that take the form of urgent confessional monologues by men who have done great wrongs and lived a lie. . at the beginning of ''Shroud,'' Vander is convinced that a young Irish researcher, Catherine (Cass) Cleave, is about to expose him.
He has received word that she has unearthed his wartime articles, Positive he's facing professional ruin, Vander, now an elderly widower living in a California college town, arranges to meet Cleave in Turin, where he plans to attend a Nietzsche conference.
Yet there's a twist in store, a secret beyond the secret. For Vander, it turns out, is not really Vander. The real Vander -- who wrote the anti-Semitic articles -- was a gentile friend of his who died during the war. The narrator, himself a Jew, used his friend's name to escape from occupied Europe. It's this information that Vander (or whatever his name is) considers shameful and potentially career-destroying. But why? He claims not to know the answer, though he's already admitted to being driven by ''fury at being what I am not, fear of being found out for what I am.'' His identity was once his death warrant; he's fled from it ever since. What's more, though he didn't write those long-ago articles, his ''deepest, dirtiest secret'' is that he agreed with them: ''We would have, I would have sacrificed anything to that transfiguring fire. I whisper it: and I still would.'' Such is the measure of his icy alienation from his own identity, and from humanity.
Opening Line: “Who speaks? It is her voice, in my head. I fear it will not stop until I stop.”
Closing Line: “The dead, though, have their voice. The air through which I move is murmurous with absences. I shall soon be one of them. Good. Why should I have life and she have none? She. She. “
Quotes: “He stood there, displaying himself to her, daring her to turn aside from the sight of that gnarled leg, that crazily skewed dead eye, and all that sagging flesh, the pot belly and the shunken acorn below and its bag suspended by an attenuated string of yellowed skin like a head of garlic on its stalk.”
Rating: okay

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