Friday, March 12, 2010

The most surprising book I have read in awhile

Surprising, in that I loved it, when I HATED the last book that I read by the person. In most cases, one book is enough to tell if I will like or dislike the author's other books. Even with a weak book, you can identify the signs that give hope for improvement. John Banville's Man Booker prize winning The Sea is one of my least favorite books ever. The book goes absolutely nowhere and in getting there you have to swim through the most opaque vocabulary imaginable.

Thanks to many reviews, personal recommendations, a nice article I saw he wrote about noir, and the fact that I picked it up for three dollars, I read his pseudonymously published Christine Falls (He goes by Benjamin Black, Black like Noir, get it?) I am SO happy I did. It is an A effort that any crime fan who likes the grimmer sort of books will love.

It would appear cliched at first. His hero, the amusingly named Quirke, is a drunken loner type with a single light in his life, his niece, who finally begins to see the truth about the world around him. The book is set in post-war Ireland, with the all powerful Church behind nearly everything. I liked how Banville/Black goes against the form of the noir tale, while remaining true to the overall spirit. Like nearly all noir heroes, ours gets a beating. Banville lets him fantasize about physical vengeance, but it's never in the cards.

The story, while very Irish, tells one of the basic crime novel tales. The powerful are corrupt and their corruption takes many forms. Not all will escape, but some small speck will be chipped away from the imposing edifice.

So what do I take away from this? Should I try again the authors, like John Irving, who vexed me so much that I never picked up another volume? Maybe, but the main lesson is probably not to write someone off for a single book.

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