The Book of Evidence

ISBN: 5553887828
ISBN 13: 9785553887827
By: John Banville

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About this book

Frederick Montgomery, irlandese, trentottenne, senza problemi né pensieri, persegue insieme a una moglie bella e sconveniente il sogno di un'eterna infanzia panica e assolata in qualche isola del Mediterraneo. Ma all'improvviso un prestito che aveva richiesto quasi per gioco, e che non è in grado di restituire, lo costringe a tornare in patria per procurarsi il denaro. É questa l'occasione che mette in moto l'inesorabile macchina narrativa della Spiegazione dei fatti: le tappe del ritorno a casa diventano le stazioni di un viaggio nel ricordo, e interi periodi del passato del protagonista tornano in vita grazie all'attraversamento di una strada, a un incontro nel pub, al soggiorno nella casa dell'infanzia, alla visita di una dimora patrizia. La blanda odissea di Frederick scivola inesorabile verso la catastrofe, che si manifesta sotto le spoglie gentili di un quadro olandese del Seicento, Ritratto di donna con guanti. Frederick lo scorge nella villa palladiana di un amico di famiglia, e ne resta folgorato. Ma l'apparizione lo conduce, per ragioni imperscrutabili eppure misteriosamente conseguenti,-fino al delitto che costituisce il punto focale del libro. Perché La spiegazione dei fatti è la deposizione che Frederick scrive in carcere nell'attesa del processo./p>

Reader's Thoughts

Bruce

These are the confessions from prison of a first person unreliable narrator who does not believe in free will, is convinced that the self is illusory, finds cause and effect problematical, and becomes a gifted scientist who finds reality probabilistic. He admits to feeling intimidated by other people who seem so sure of themselves, and he sees himself as being easily influenced by the arguments of others, or at least prone to agree with them so as to feel good about himself or at least accepted. The narrative seems to be plea or apologia that Freddie is writing to the judge for his future trial. It is unclear what is true, what Freddie thinks is true, and what he relates disingenuously. Having apparently long since given up on a scientific career or even any gainful employment, Freddie has roamed around Europe for ten years with his wife Daphne and their child, sponging off tourists in Mediterranean resort towns until he is forced to leave his wife and child as sort of hostages with an ominous creditor, returning himself to his childhood home and mother in Ireland to try to scrape up the money necessary to pay his debts. Arriving at his home he is awash with memories, his reminiscences serving to flesh out the history of his life to this point. Freddie’s descriptions of places and persons and also of his own feelings are often uncannily evocative of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, occasionally even of Dostoevsky, equally macabre and delivered in a similarly wry and even somewhat flippant tone. He muses on the very concept of badness, questioning whether it has any substance or existential reality. At times he seems to be claiming a split personality. Is he really convinced of this or is it all an elaborate put-on, an act that he is playing for the judge? Freddie seems curiously and constantly to be convinced of his lack of responsibility for his actions, his crimes seeming to have occurred without his active volition and therefore without his personal responsibility. The course of events is presented as being both inevitable and unintended, tragic and banal, almost trivial. Is there in this world any place for free will? If not, what defines evil? This apparent amorality is unsettling and raises important questions about how we attribute responsibility and therefore accountability to our actions. Is our cultural system of ethics and our penal paradigm based on something that is arbitrary or even illogical? While not a greatly memorable book, Banville’s novel is intriguing and raises important questions and issues that deserve pondering. One question that might be asked is what Banville’s own view is, if he has one. Is he being critical of what he sees as moral relativity or lack of moral compass? Or is he demonstrating the flaws in traditional views of evil? Like any good novel, this one does not make that clear. The novel was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Brad

Fourth attempt, fourth time abandoning The Book of Evidence.I made it a little farther this time, as I do each time I take a crack at it, but I've still not reached one hundred pages, and I can't see myself ever picking this book up again. But it's John Banville, and I am an Irish Lit guy, so I feel like something is wrong with me; I can't read his books.But there's definitely something wrong with this book that isn't about me. John Banville doesn't care about his protagonist, Freddie Montgomery. When one writes a first person narrative and one doesn't care for one's narrator, the book can be excruciating to read. At least it is so for me. And I've to wonder why Banville bothered. Still, maybe there is something to be said for Banville's achievement. He wrote a book about someone he doesn't care for, and he wrote it well. I can't deny that. His prose is beautiful and occassionally brilliant. But I can't imagine writing a book about a character I don't care about. I can write a book about someone I dislike or even loathe, but I have to care about them even so. Banville seems to have written about a character, however, that he both disdains and doesn't care for. It is something I can't do, and it is also something that I can't read because Banville's attitude becomes my attitude, and I can't carry on reading without caring about the character(s) I am asked to spend time with. So do I try The Book of Evidence again sometime, when I think I am in the mood for some uncaring misanthropy? Do I try The Sea, even though it won the Booker Prize and probably sucks? Or do I just stop trying to appreciate Banville? Can't decide right now. Help me out gentle readers. Is there a Banville you think I may like?

Nicholas

A dynamic explosion of tough opinion and exaggerated story-telling. A fantastic read that keeps you guessing, but you can't help but like it. The protagonist is not reliable, yet he is likeable. He is truthful, in what he says, or maybe that is just what he wants you to believe!? The inane words that dot the pages, have been decreased, compared to The Sea, and makes the book much more friendly. Freddie, as some call him, is a troubled man with a murder on his hands. Recounting his tale, the reader sees what happened. It is laughable, but not too much, as in not overly done. The novel certainly deserves to be a Man Booker Finalist, not just because it uses quaint prose, but because it's in its own category of literature. The plot seems to elude me, I can't really find one. A lesson that might also appear more readily then the plot is: close the door and keep out the maid. Solitary confinement is not bad if you plan to rob a painting from a house! With back and forth glances at his world, you might get jumbled up; I, myself, got confused a number of times. I innovative and amicable work of literature, if not strange.

Jeff

The unreliable narrator is a favorite of contemporary novelists, and the question of how much can one trust the narrator is just as popular with literary analysts. The appeal of The Book of Evidence, then, is easy to understand. For me, however, the salient reason to pick up this little novel is the prose, which is almost as fun and rich as Nabokov's (with whom John Banville has been compared to the point of it now being a cliche).A blurb on the back of this edition states that those reading the book as a thriller will enjoy it as equally as those who are reading it as a serious work of literature. I disagree. As a murder tale, it is wholly unsatisfying when viewed under the expectant light of that particular genre. This is not a bad thing. For me, though, it seems that even when reading it as a "serious" novel, which is an absurd but somewhat useful concept, I can't help but feel as though I'm missing something. I'd love to go through it again someday, reading the fruitful and poetic language aloud and paying closer attention to theme and subtext. In the meantime, I'll definitely consider reading another book in Banville's oeuvre.

Kyra

Montgomery, the murderer, the protagonist of this narrative, strikes me as he tells his tale to be the foremost unreliable narrator. He is guilty, of course, of course, but of what? Some sort of existential botch to hear him tell it. Not murder where a person with a soul is taken forcably. Oh no. Montgomery is much to delicate for that. He shirks duties and agrees with himself on every pleasure he takes, and regards himself first as a man deserving of enjoyment; a connoisseur of pleasure that he curates like the Dutch paintings that in the end so inflamed him. But, alas, he's not a hard worker at his pleasures. He is entitled to them, a taker of them, a thief of pleasures earned and kept by others. After duping a hustler of his own ill gotten gains, he is forced to leave his wife and child in some unnamed demi-paradise and hustle home to Ireland to try and get the money he needs to return them. There is so little urgency in this task and at times it seems he has forgotten it altogether. The first sin he permits of himself is laziness, a profound laziness that first drives his cynicism and ultimately engenders his murderous rage. This book is told by a lazy man who gradually becomes sinister because of his failure to create over a lifetime anything of value, and so in the end, he decides that it is the murder itself that will be his creation, indeed he has really no idea why he's done it. He wants you to know that he's guilty, and he wants you to know that he's smart and aesthetically sensitive about it. What emerges from his narrative of his acts is the portrait of a sociopath who is startled by other's humanity. It's a brief, incisive read, that harkens to Nabokov. First of a trilogy the second volume of which has sat on my shelf for 25 years unread. I guess I'll manage to choke the second volume Ghosts down now and put it to rest, if you pardon the pun. Banville is a cold writer. His sentences maintain tension, are smooth and round and don't call attention to themselves. There is a clinical feel to this writing that I appreciate, but not all readers will, I expect. Still, the craftsman will admire it. Well done.

Laura

Just arrived from Australia through BM. A magnificent book!!

Melanie Garrett

The writing is sublime and stands in such stark contrast to the squalidness of the tale itself that it actually makes it more difficult to read. A very dark, exquisitely written, novel, that I hope for your sake you will give a miss. But then, there is the prose, which is astoundingly good...oh, I don't know, you decide...

Liz

John Banville's hypnotic and engaging prose strikes again. DAMN! but the man can write!**spoiler alert**Never have I read a book about such a thoroughly unlikeable character and been so glad that he was in jail (this you know from the first chapter, the first page, even)--Banville takes you inside the head of this complete lout, and you see all of his despicable, selfish actions through the self-pitying eyes of the perpetrator. Not the sort of book I usually enjoy or read, but once I'd started it, I couldn't put it down!

Clodagh

This book is so believable I became throughly depressed reading it. The self justification of the main character and self absorbed sociopath tendencies he displays were really quite upsetting. I believed him, I was engaged, pulled in and wanted to do nothing more than to pull him out of the book and shake him until he could learn to feel emotions for other people, and to feel remorse. The writing is amazing, Banville is a genius. This is one of the best books I've read, but also one of the hardest - the writing is fluid, the plot pulls you in but I had to take a few sanity breaks to stop myself hurling into a whirlwind of thoughts about the evils people can do.

Frank

Well, what does one say about a first-person confessional written from a prison cell? That the narrator is suave, educated and erudite—a somewhat accidental murderer—is both charming and disarming; within the first few pages, I was reminded of the structure of Nabokov's Lolita. Indeed, Freddie Montgomery shares quite a few traits with good ol' Hum, not the least of which is an unhealthy dose of unreliability as a narrator. Not among them however is motive; their pathologies are quiet different: whereas Clare Quilty's famous killer was a man moved by insane obsession, Freddie is moved only by the passage of time and forces he hardly registers. He seems particularly Irish.The novel is suffused with literary allusions, most of which I'm sure went over my head; but I did notice the nod to Nabokov (and Wilde before him): when Freddie steals a car, it's from a rural rental agent called "Melmoth's ar Hire" (apparently the "C" in car was faded away). And the car he fecks-off in? Why a Humber, of course.This is my third novel by John Banville; I read The Sea, his Booker-prize winner, two-and-a-half years ago and while I remember enjoying it, I don't recall anything about it. Earlier this year I read Kepler and didn't much care for it. I don't think I'll have any trouble remembering The Book of Evidence; it stands not only as evidence of a murderer's delusions, but also makes a prima facia case for Banville's wit, insight and craft.

Laura

I read this book based on the recommendation/review of a friend, and I am absolutely floored. John, where have you been all my life? I second all the reviewers' praise of Banville's language - even found myself feverishly writing down scattered phrases or entire paragraphs. - And how beautifully Banville controls the story - delivering just the right amount of plot detail and character insight at just the right time. Finally, I am struck by the juxtaposition of Banville's vigorous prose with his protagonist' (and interlocutor's) general apathy (or "accidie," as Banville would have it). It is, in a word, perfect.

Jeff

Freddie Montgomery tells us the story of his life and his crime. We can't be sure if this is post-conviction or pre-trial "confession." As such, he meanders through his adult life with brief flashbacks to sensual moments from his youth. Describing gin: "[it:] always makes me think of twilight and mists and dead maidens. Tonight it tinkled in my mouth like secret laughter." Discussing his theory that humans are not fit to live in this kind of world: "How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was made to contain us?" And my favorite bit when he "meets" the "woman" who will lead to his "downfall" (oh! how i love winkwink-nudgenudge quotes):Things seemed not to recede as they should, but to be arrayed before me--the furniture, the open window, the lawn and river and far-off mountains--as if they were not being looked at but were themselves looking, intent upon a vanishing-point here, inside the room. I turned then, and saw myself turning as I turned, as I seem to myself to be turning still, as I sometimes imagine I shall be turning always, as if this might be my punishment, my damnation, just this breathless, blurred, eternal turning towards her.(Occurred to me just now: that's reminiscent of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman!)More often than not, i enjoy Freddie's perceptiveness and descriptiveness, but occasionally the artifice of Banville's Narrative Device feels forced or Freddie's voice irks me. For example on page 51 (of my edition), the interruption of the fictive illusion seems meaningful:I put my arm aroung him, laid a hand on his forehead. He said to me: don't mind her. He said to me --Stop this, stop it. I was not there. I have not been present at anyone's death.Both statements cannot be true; we see that Freddie's yet another late-20th century unreliable narrator. But then there will be one of these:Of the various kinds of darkness I shall not speak.My cell. My cell is. Why go on with this.I am just grateful there aren't more of these burstings of the bubble.Reviewing my marginalia and highlighted words, sentences, paragraphs, "Children should be seen and not heard" comes to mind. Banville seems to be examining what it's like to see and be seen but the act of writing is really about being heard ... in order to be seen? There is a lot of playing with the idea of children, childishness, parents, parenting, responsibility, dependence, and how seeing and being seen/heard relate to them.I made several notes in the margins when i was reminded of other fictional works--Rilke, Kafka, Burgess, Goethe, Shakespeare, Proust--all of which (except Proust & Kafka?) alluded to evildoers or killers.For people interested in comparing/contrasting other contemporary Irish books about murder/murderers (this ain't really a spoiler of any kind), i recommend Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman (one of my new all-time favorites) and Edna O'Brien's In the Forest. All 3 murders/murderers are different. All 3 styles of writing are different. Seems the only sameness is the seeming centrality of murder and the setting being 20th century Ireland. Banville's ranks a distant 3rd (but that's like an Olympic bronze medal). Edna O'Brien's prose is the prettiest and her descriptions/evocations of Place the best; her ability to change gears and write from different personal and distanced, objective perspectives is virtuosic. Flann O'Brien's book just happens to deal with issues that are of the most interest to me and his brand of writing felt most like what i'd aspire to if i ever wrote a novel. When i read The Third Policeman, it was as if i were reading my own thoughts: i wished i'd been able to write that book before he did; i loved O'Brien for writing it the way he did; i thrilled at the feeling of union. I think Banville's work falls short of greatness; maybe i'm just biased against first person narration or the obvious unreliable narrator biznaz. Y'know, maybe people who liked Jean Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers might like Book of Evidence. I never finished reading that one; maybe someday.

Becky

Well, the whole world has turned upside down for me this week! I really didn't enjoy Saramago that much, but this was a fascinating piece of work from Banville. I'm usually turned off by his poetic turn of phrase, but this was a very different book to the other pieces I've read. Freddie Montgomery is on trial for doing something nasty, and the Book of Evidence is his self prepared defence. Except it's not really a defence, because he has no remorse. In fact, the whole story is pretty logical, until you step back and remind yourself of the crime at it's centre. As you might expect, it's a rather dark but fascinating look into the psychology of a man who was offered everything, but drifted down quite the wrong path. An excellent (and short) read.

Joe

Never have I liked a book more in the first 10 pages that I hated more in the next 210 pages. The basic premise is that the main character (I hesitate to call him the protagonist) is in jail for killing someone and we find out over the course of the novel what happened. He is clearly a psychopath or sociopath or...something, I don't know, he's crazy.At first I was hoping this was going to be some sore of Hannibal Lecter/Professor Moriarty evil genius walks us through his crime situation. Not so much. It is clear that the author doesn't care about his character, so why should we.I see what the author is going for, he wants us to be in the mind of this completely delusional person. I suppose on that front, he succeeded. But the experience is completely devoid of joy. Now don't take that to mean "unhappy." I've read books about brutal killers/killings that were very grim but I can always take joy out of a story told well.Here, the story is so boring. So boring! I get that the killing and the reason behind it were supposed to be boring because that's what the author was going for but just because that's what he was going for does not mean that it works.Some of the phrases in this book were beautiful. Some of the quotes, fantastic. There's clearly a good writer inside of John Banville dying to get out but these good spots only highlighted the turd of a book I was actually reading.I can't give this more than 1 star because I really don't want anyone else to have to read this. I don't want to encourage books like this to exist. Banville wanted to punish the reader here. Great, thanks, you have succeeded.

Kristel

Narrated by Freddie Montgomery who is waiting trial from jail for the murder he committed while stealing a painting from the home of family friend.The first half of the book is a weaving of Freddie’s memories and current thoughts. We learn that Freddie is from Ireland but has ben lving in the California and on a island in the Mediterranean with his wife and son. Freddie gets into some trouble with gangster, owes money and is forced to go home to get the money. At home, Freddie finds his mother to be quite poor. She says she was forced to sell the paintings because Freddie has been living off his father’s money. This angers Freddie who feels his mother has squandered his inheritance. Freddie visits the neighbor, goes back to steal a painting and is caught by a young maid which he forces to go with him and later kills. The second half of the book tells of his arrest and his interaction with the legal authorities.I decided to read this rather short book because of the controversy in the 1001 Books You Must Read Group. It was a 5 star book for one and 2 stars from the guys. First, I knew that the murder description was graphic and it was so (I skimmed quickly over) and that there was description of vomit and there is some sexual stuff too. The narrator is totally unreliable and self focused thus narcissistic is a good description as well as antisocial and has also been referred to as amoral. In his narrative, at times it would appear that Freddie is trying to blame everyone and everything for what has happened. I agree with John, there is no remorse. The last line, is remorse that he has not been respected more and admired more for what has happened and he has taken on the idea that he can give life back to this girl nor do we the reader ever know what is truth. Freddie’s reality is so distorted. The story was based on the 1982 incident of Edward MacArthur, who killed a young nurse in Dublin during the course of stealing her car. The phrase grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented (GUBU) was paraphrased from a comment by then Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland, Charles Haughey, while describing a strange series of incidents in the summer of 1982 that led to a double-murderer being apprehended in the house of the Irish Attorney General. Edward MacArthur was staying with the attorney general and later resigned after MacArthur was arrested. Banville was attempting to give his prose more characteristics of poetry. The book won Ireland's Guinness Peat Aviation Award in 1989 and was short-listed for Britain's Booker Prize. There is a sequel to this book called Ghosts in which many of the characters reappear.I didn’t find the book as distateful as the 2 star reviewers now maybe as 5 star as Shelley but I will give in 3.5 stars. I liked The Sea better in which the author does achieve the qualities of poetry.

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