“It was the worst of winter weather, and April Latimer was missing.”
So begins Elegy for April, the compelling, moody new novel set in 1950s Dublin by the Edgar Award-winning Benjamin Black who also happens to be the Booker Award-winning John Banville. His new novel, The Infinities, starts:
“Of the things we fashioned for them that they might be comforted, dawn is the one that works.”
I find myself agonizing over posts of four to five hundred words (and that includes excerpts) and this guy bangs out two magnificent novels in two voices.
As The Guardian pointed out while Ezra Pound said that poetry should be at least as well written as prose, Banville seems to have turned that on its head.
“He gazes into the twilit garden. Thick, tawny sunlights creeps along the grass, drawing spiked shadows in its wake,” he writes at one point in Infinities, which is loosely based on Heinrich von Kleist’s adaptation of an Roman play, Amphitryon, about the Gods, told in the voice of Mercury.
The novels tells the story of Adam Godley, a famous mathematician on his deathbed, his family all around him and the Greek gods all around them.
While Adam lies dying, his son — also named Adam — is having problems in his marriage while older Adam’s daughter, the slightly-off and self-centered Petra, is having trouble seeing the world right in front of her and on top of it, the Gods keep getting in the way.
“We too are petty and vindictive, just like you, when you are put to it,” Mercury says at one point.
And it’s true.
He has the Gods taking human form, arguing and, as Mercury says, being petty and vindictive. If it seems obscure, complex, it really isn’t. It’s a book about big ideas with big laughs. It’s funny, beautifully crafted, light and airy at times, darkly comic at others.
Meanwhile, Elegy for April is just dark.
The third novel from Black to focus on the hard-drinking pathologist Garrett Quirke, Elegy captures the city like Chandler captured Los Angeles and gives us a main character more than capable of holding his own in comparisons with Marlowe.
The April of the title, April Latimer, is a doctor at the same hospital as Quirke though he can’t quite picture her. She is also the best friend of Quirke’s daughter, Phoebe and when April goes missing, Phoebe gets her newly sober dad to look into the case.
“Black” lays out his plot and fills it with memorable characters; not just Quirke and his daughter but the returning Inspector Hackett, and friends of of Phoebe and April, not to mention the city, which is as memorable as any of the people.
As Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times:
“The Quirke books are so savvy, stylish and unencumbered by literary ambition that they deliver a lot of guilty pleasure. They’re clever but uncomplicated, since mystery plotting is hardly their author’s primary concern.”
In interviews, Banville/Black makes it clear that he enjoys his dual personality.
“The distinction I always make is that with Banville what you get is the result of concentration, what you get from Black is the result of spontaneity,” he told The Oregonian last month. “I hope the work of both of them, those dark brothers, is equally satisfying for the reader.”
Worry not. They were.
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- Oh, Gods (nytimes.com)
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- The gods must be crazy (boston.com)