Monday, 2 June 2008

Christine Falls

"John Banville writing as Benjamin Black" - why do authors feel the need to do that? I'm being disingenuous; I know exactly why they do it. This is Banville wishing to distance his Man Booker winning name from the grubby genre of crime (note that he picks a really naff alias, "Benjamin Black" , as if to stress the fact that we are not to take this tangent too seriously). Of course he wants it to sell so we have a little sticky in the bottom corner reminding us whose hand is at play here.

None of which alters the fact that Christine Falls is a damn good book. If I wanted to be controversial, I'd say it was one of the best things Banville's written.

This is his first official foray into crime (although I think Body of Evidence probably counts) and I loved it. Really rich, rewarding stuff. Great cast of characters, deft plotting and wonderfully evocative depictions of 1950s Dublin and Boston MA.

The difference it makes to read a crime novel written by such a competent and compelling wordsmith! It restored my faith in the genre. Does that make me sound a crashing snob? So be it.

As for his "making the transition" from literary to crime, well, someone who's read a heck of a lot more of Banville's stuff would have to take up that cudgel. I only spotted a couple of places where I'd have edited - an adjective here or there, nothing drastic. I suspect in fact that the discipline of focusing on character and plot may have been a good exercise for the economy of his style.

I am now reading The Untouchable which of course demands a certain "over the top" narrative style and has its merits, but gee golly it does make me long for the crisp, cool rendering of Christine Falls.


MG said...

The Spectator regularly reviews the best in crime fiction. It's the only fiction genre they ever review. Crime is totally acceptable to the literati! Some of the books they describe sound pretty literary to me. This is a fine path to follow, Sarah.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, MG. I reached the conclusion I should go with my strengths, such as they are. I can't compete with the master plotters or the girl-brutalisers but I think I can muster a decent blend of characterisation with literary touches. At least I hope so. SL (agent) seemed to think so.