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.S.
I really enjoyed this book because I really enjoy despair and self-pity. Especially if it’s couched in a good story by an Irish writer with a fabulous vocabulary.Banville is the saint of sumptuous sentences. Although the book is riddled with them, there’s a real knock-out on page 32:“I drank my drink. There is something about gin, the tang in it of the deep wildwood, perhaps, that always makes me think of twilight and mists and dead maidens. Tonight it tinkled in my mouth like secret laughter.”Okay, that’s three sentences. It’s mostly the center one I mean, but also the sequencing of these three with 1) the simple set-up, 2) the sensual ravishing, and 3) the kill-off, is masterful.He also hits the bullseye when evoking the senses."...I caught a whiff of something, a faint, sharp, metallic smell, like the smell of worn pennies.” “I had not thought paper would make so much noise, such scuffling and rattling and ripping, it must have sounded as if some large animal were being flayed alive in here.”As above, he’s fabulous with “as if.”“His left eyelid began to flutter as if a moth had suddenly come to life under it.”“She drove very fast, working the controls probingly, as if she were trying to locate a pattern, a secret formula, hidden in this mesh of small deft actions.”“Her pale colouring and vivid hair and long, slender neck gave her a startled look, as if some time in the past she had been told a shocking secret and had never quite absorbed it.”“When I spoke to her the poor girl turned crimson, and wincingly extended a calloused little paw as if she were afraid I might be going to keep it.”His words savor color and light:“I have always loved that hour of the day, when that soft, muslin light seeps upward, as if out of the earth itself, and everything seems to grow thoughtful and turn away.”Lying in bed, the main character describes watching lights scan across the room:“Now and then a car or lorry passed by, and a box of lighted geometry slid rapidly over the ceiling and down the walls and poured away into a corner.”There’s so much more! Just read the book if you like good writing. I warn you that the murder is horrible and sad. Also, the characters are horrible and/or sad. I recommend this to anyone who thinks the “general awfulness of everything” can be redeemed by art.Tony
Banville, John. THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE. (1989). ****. From a review by Anna Foca: “Freddie Montgomery narrates The Book Of Evidence from his jail cell as he awaits trial for a murder he committed during a burglary so inexplicable it brings into question his declining mental state. Freddie appears to be a family man, living on a Mediterranean island with his wife and their young son; he steps into a dangerous world, however, when he blackmails a local criminal into loaning him a large sum of money. Inexperienced as a criminal, he returns to Ireland ostensibly to raise the money he owes, leaving his wife and son as human collateral, but shortly into his voyage he ‘realizes’ that really he is fleeing the irretrievable mess he has made. Thus begins his downward spiral. Freddie’s narrative is mesmerizing not least for its mysterious ability to unravel itself. He insistently denies his own agency, which is refleected in his corresponding ghostlike levitation across continents, which ultimately leaves him unable to resist his ‘drift’ into calamity. This inner vacuity engenders a failure to imagine others’ inner lives. Insofar as Freddie has no discernible identity, he generalizes his own case to that of others, acting as though they are similarly adrift and external. As he recounts the exasperated and forlorn reactions of his mother and wife to his latest horror, he sees perhaps for the first time that all around him people take seriously the bonds they share with others. The eerie sensation for Freddie – and for readers – is that he may simply be a different sort of beast.” This story strongly reminds me of “Crime and Punishment,” in that the main characters have much the same personality and agonize over a crime that they committed, but without really knowing how. Recommended.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.Jennifer
I am not enjoying this book. There's a genre of what passes for entertainment which I cannot enjoy, and this novel belongs to it. This group of works includes The Slap by Tsiolkas, and the movie and book Wake in Fright, which many Australians will know (both of these I have referred to are Australian, though Book of Evidence is Irish). They are works which are critically acclaimed, and well produced and written, but which I find soul-crushing to witness. They seek to portray the ugly amoral hypocrisy of a group of people, and their innocent victims, or merely to highlight the meaninglessness of life. They delight in long descriptions of senseless, and inexplicable violence and offensiveness, without sign of redemption or reason. Their raison d'etre is to open our eyes to our own depravity, or that of the society in which we live, and they wander through incident after incident aimlessly in an attempt to build up a foreboding sense of horror, but the survey of amorality is not a strong enough impetus for the plot, and it suffers from an acute lack of direction. It's poor mimicry, to my mind, of Dostoevski's aim in Crime and Punishment, but lacking in the inspirational insight in that work. Speaking of mimicry, this is written very much after the style of Camus or Kafka, which is certainly a tribute to Banville, I guess. I don't find this to be the stuff of entertainment. I suppose I'm a bit sheepish to admit that I do like a nice little feel-good movie, and I like to learn to appreciate and love life and people and the world around me in my reading. I'm a pessimist about humanity and the future in general, and books like these just bring me down. I wouldn't presume to say that this is not a good work, and I'm a bit ashamed of putting a Pulizer shortlisted book into my rubbish bin, but I cannot enjoy it, and I probably won't bother reading it to the end. I know there won't be any happy ending, or even a resolution to place the amorality into context or enlighten me at the end of all that gloom. This book documents the decline and comeuppance of a wealthy, dissipated and directionless ne'er do well with no moral code, who murders a woman after he gets himself into a debt to one of his many rip-off victims, who was into criminal elements. His immediate victim has his ear cut off by gang members and sent to him, and the useless protagonist is threatened by the gang leader into leaving his wife and son (whom he doesn't really care too much for) on a Mediterranean island as unknowing hostages whilst our hero goes home to try to suck more money out of what is left of his family, whom he has betrayed and left in the lurch years before. The money is not forthcoming and he ends up murdering the maid of an acquaintance he once desultorily screwed with his wife in a threesome after sponging off her for a while. Like the sound of this? You're welcome to it.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.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.Paul
It struck me that quite a number of novels are written from the point of view of a really repulsive man, one of those bombastic egomaniacs who you'd walk over broken glass to avoid, yet in a novel you're trapped with this guy in your ear, in your brain, on every page, every sentence. No let up. Why would any writer saddle themselves and why would readers want to get saddled with such inescapable loathsomeness? In case you're wondering, here are examples of what I mean :The Room - Hubert SelbyExtinction - Thomas BernhardTropic of Cancer - Henry MillerLolita - NabokovThe Mad Man - DelanyThe Fermata - Nicholson BakerGould's Book of FishAtomised - HouellebecqThe Killer Inside me - ThompsonHerzog - BellowEarthly Powers - Burgess1982 Janine - GrayMoney - AmisWhat I Lived For - OatesAnything in the first person by Philip RothI the Supreme - Roa BastosandThe Book of Evidence - BanvilleCertainly some bombastic egomaniacs are fun to be with (for instance Christopher Hitchins, a guy who could have been fictional, but wasn't), and a couple of the above might be said to be good company - the guy in The Fermata, he certainly does funny stuff whilst being a repulsive sexual predator, and John Self in Money sure has a way with words while he's sniffing and defiling ladies' underwear. Humbert Humbert is a real entertainer too, except that his wit and ebullience wear thin quite quickly. Probably he's our best example - Nabokov hopes, I think, to skewer the reader - we are entranced by that voice, that voice, not to mention the propulsion of the narrative, so much so that we can't wrench free of this hideous story even though we are perfectly aware of its ghastliness. That's certainly true in What I Lived For - we can't wait for this gross bastard to crash into the brick wall of his own life, and JCO let's us have it in stunning slowmotion. But some of these creeps have no redeeming features - the guy in Atomised, the loony in The Killer Inside Me, the full-time hater of everything in Extinction, and the windbag poseur in The Book of Evidence, and Henry Miller in all his glory - the agony of reading Tropic of cancer knowing that HM lived to be a ripe old age! You just want to nail their heads to the nearest escritoire. So I can't say i know what those novels think they're doing. As a ps, and this might be my limited reading experience talking, I can't think of any novels from the point of view of an unbearable egomaniac female. Maybe someone could suggest a few.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?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.Oscar
Definitivamente, la literatura es diferente a la pintura. Un buen pintor es capaz de crear una obra maestra (o al menos un buen cuadro) utilizando cualquier motivo. Desde una batalla multitudinaria, hasta un simple bodegón, pasando por un anodino paisaje. El buen pintor es lo bastante hábil para plasmar en su obra todo eso en lo que nuestro ojo no se había fijado, pero que ahora, a través de su pintura, sí vemos. Con la literatura no sucede ésto. Un buen escritor también necesita algo importante sobre lo que escribir. Por supuesto, existen excepciones; esos grandes genios (todos tenemos alguno en mente) que son capaces de encandilar escribiendo sobre la cosa más nimia. Pero éstos son los menos, esta genialidad estaba (¿está?) al alcance de muy pocos.John Banville lo tiene casi todo. Su prosa es muy buena, es elegante, inteligente, bella en algunos momentos, pero sólo es eficiente cuando cuenta una historia interesante. 'El libro de las pruebas' se queda en un intento de buen libro. Es una de sus primeras novelas y tal vez habría que achacarlo a ello. O quizá esta idea en manos de otro escritor hubiese dado más de sí. Lo que está claro es que el libro apenas me ha gustado.La historia está narrada en primera persona por Frederick Montgomery, un personaje de buena familia que se encuentra en la cárcel por un crimen que ha cometido. (Habría que escarmentar a los que escriben las sinopsis de algunos libros, porque en éste en concreto cuentan demasiado, hechos que suceden pasada la mitad del libro, o sea, un spoiler en toda regla.) Y desde la cárcel, Frederick escribe su particular libro de las pruebas, su pequeño libro de memorias, haciendo como que se dirige al juez y al jurado. Pero toda visión o versión personal suele ser también parcial, o al menos muy poco objetiva. De la historia no querría contar demasiado, así que sólo diré que todo comienza cuando Freddie está de viaje con su familia en una isla del Mediterráneo, en la que se meterá en un buen lío.Como digo, la novela está muy bien escrita, pero no me ha enganchado en ningún momento, no sé si porque el personaje no me ha seducido, o porque Banville no ha sabido atraparme. El único interés radica en saber cómo le van yendo las cosas al personaje, esperando encontrar de vez en cuando buenas frases y párrafos. Aun siendo una de las novelas más flojas de Banville, a este escritor irlandés hay que seguirle la pista por su indiscutible calidad.Katie Grainger
The Book of Evidence was quite an interesting concept. Freddie Montgomery is the unreliable narrator for this tale of criminal activity. Freddie is an intelligent but aimless drifter who is in the Mediterranean with this wife and child when he runs foul of a loan shark. He heads back to Ireland to try and get some money from his family. When he returns he finds the family fortune gone and the paintings he was relying on sold. What follows is a descent into crime and the consequences. Banville is a master of words and there are some fantastic passages of prose in this novel. However I found it quite hard going- it was really difficult to get into the story, probably because Freddie is not an easy character to like.Laura
Just arrived from Australia through BM. A magnificent book!!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.Hamish
It's hard to read this and not think of Nabokov, even more so than with Banville's other stuff. A lot of that is because it's a first-person telling of horrible crime by a very pathetic, hateable (but not quite sociopathic), yet almost charming villain, ala Despair or Lolita. But there's also the style it's written in; the word choices, the specific details he emphasizes, the playfulness, it all screams Nabokov. Still, it never feels like a cheap imitation. It feels more like Banville studied N closely and learned all the important lessons that N had to teach, and then applied them to his own work. Someone doing an easy, surface imitation would not have been able to pull off what Banville does here. He's just so good at everything. His writing here is almost virtuosic. I remember reading that he can spend an entire day on just one sentence, and the effort shows. He never overdoes or underdoes it, his prose is almost perfect. And for that reason you can forgive him for his relatively unoriginal style. I would compare him to The Jam. They wore their influences on their sleeve and made no bones about it, but they still wrote some fine songs.There's also something in how well he portrays the psychology of our narrator. It's completely convincing and at times I got so wrapped up in it that I would get anxious, and I'd have to stop and remind myself that I didn't murder anyone and I'm not going to be on trial soon. Kind of like when you dream that you did something awful, and when you wake up you feel guilty and scared and it takes a while for you to remember that it didn't actually happen.P.S. This brings up something that I've thought a lot about: The relationship between originality and quality (and not just in literature). I think there's a pretty strong relationship between the two, but I don't think it's absolute. My working theory is that someone who is talented and has a good aesthetic sense will automatically gravitate towards doing something new, that the inspiration that leads to someone writing something of worth is the same inspiration that will lead them to try something that hasn't been done. Similarly, someone who is content to imitate existing works is probably lacking in the creativity that would lead to them creating something of a high quality. But then there are people like Banville who demonstrate that this is not always true. But again, Banville never really feels like an imitator, it's just that he's not completely original either. So this is still an unfinished thought.