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[19] Shroud – John Banville

Shroud, like other novels by John Banville, is beautifully written against a vividly limned background. The main character, Axel Vander, is conceited, obnoxious, and goes out of his way to offend the readers. He identifies himself as a masterly liar who lies about almost everything, even when there is no need and even when the plain truth will be so much more effective in maintaining the pretence. I will not be surprised at his unreliable narration, shameless boasting and impudent lies as he spatters out the tale of his life.

The shocking secret is that Axel Vander is not the real Axel Vander but has ineluctably appropriated the identity of an actor. He has impudently maintained the deception for over half a century since the time of danger during World War II. He must have thought he had shaken off his far past and wiped out all vestige of his old identity until the letter of Cass Cleave confronts him with irrefutable proof of his imposture. Banville devotes almost the whole novel chronicling Axel Vander’s life, his delirious reflections, his reminiscence of his wife, the disturbing details of his impregnable alibi – all the minute heart-pricking details that permits Cass Cleave to privy the impostor’s secret. Banville has written a beautifully crafted thriller, with meticulous prose, that prepares readers for the dreadful moment – the meeting of Axel Vander and his nemesis from whom he is so overwrought to buy silence for fear of being exposed.

The prose is incredulously lyrical, rich, and refined – so much more compressed and yet detailed any prose in most contemporary fiction. Banville is one of the few living author who can maintain the flow of a novel with a taut sense while flourishing different themes as well as exploring and exposing, delineating the intricacies of human emotions. The book leaves us in awe of the marvelous silence with which human tolerate lies. Once again Banville has epitomized literary fiction with a twisting intrigue, which is unfortunately exiguous in the market now.

5 Responses

  1. This sounds good. I have never read any of Banville’s work. This character seems right up my alley these days as I seem to be reading a lot of books with obnoxious main characters!

  2. I find Banville a mixed bag. The Sea was tremendous, The Newton Letter fascinating, The Untouchable worth reading. But Shroud joins The Book of Evidence, Athena and Eclipse among those Banvilles that I could barely finish, and felt I got nothing out of when I had. In fact, why do I keep trying him??

  3. John:
    Banville books can be hit or miss, depending on your mood and how you take on his highly crafted prose. I was trudging through The Book of Evidence myself, but managed to finish it. I think I feel the same way as you do, but I’m attracted by his chiseled writing. 🙂

  4. […] outrageously dishonest character would be Axel Vander from Shroud by John Banville. He identifies himself as a masterly liar who lies about almost everything, even […]

  5. […] (and excessive use of obscure vocabulary) convinces me the measure of his force. Check out Shroud. The doubly minority-esque James Baldwin, African American and gay, is ridiculously under-read, […]

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