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


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.

Soumen Daschoudhury

Read the complete review on my blog: Freddie Montgomery, the protagonist, is a happy-go-lucky kind of person who cares less about relationships, cares less about anything and everything. An unrehearsed disturbance in his mind leads him to execute one fraud after another and then there is no looking back. He feels no more when he fools people and when he gets into the real act of having stolen the painting, the watching of the chamber maid of his doings sets in an ire he cannot control. He conveniently thinks that the world is up against him and won’t leave him alone to do anything. What was supposed to be a simple bargain with the Behrens leads to a heinous crime with the murder of the maid by Freddie. What is disturbing is that he doesn’t feel much on smashing her head by the hammer again and again and again while she begs for her life. He says he did it because he could possibly do it. Why he did it, is a confusion he has no straight answer for. The book is Freddie’s confession of his life, of his crimes, of his unsuccessful relationships. The language is superb and I was hooked to the book from the initial pages itself. It is remarkable writing as should be. The plot is heinous, the characters lucid and the flow is immaculate bending, twisting and turning among the past and present.


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.


Mammy's boys everywhere will cringe. The poor mother! This book is the confession of Freddie Montgomery, a murderer and thief hailing from a successful Catholic middle class Irish family, who made good in California and abandoned his family in order to run away (And hopefully get cash together) to pay off his debtors.I never expected to enjoy John Banville. I anticipated that he would write a well trodden Irish novel - priest, pauper, emigrants, sexual frustration with inchoate anger and despair - but the novel is elevated far beyond what I would consider the conventional literary Irish novel of the last half century. At times his insights can seem a little strained - he is guilty, I think, of constantly trying to find that epic line which the greats manage with such ease - but four out of five times he hits the nail on the head with introspection. Literally every page has a nugget of wisom within it, and if you allow yourself to drift at all when reading, you'll have a great time reading this book.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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.

Josh Friedlander

Is John Banville the best prose stylist of our generation?


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.


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!

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