Shroud : Hardcover – 20 Sep 2002
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It's always a major literary event, a new novel by John Banville, even if the event usually seems to pass off quietly. In Shroud we meet Axel Vander, an academic with a dark secret, living out his final years on America's west coast. But his past catches up with him in the form of Cass Cleave, a woman on a mission. All of Banville's previous novels have been greeted enthusiastically by his ever-growing readership, and there can be no doubt that Shroud is one of the highlights of an autumn publishing season already full of new books by long established authors. 'His prose gives continuous sensuous delight,' wrote Martin Amis. Here is more delight. Who could ask for more from a novel?
Axel Vander, celebrated academic and man of culture, is spending his twilight years on the west coast of America. For decades he has lived with the knowledge of a tragedy of which he was both perpetrator and victim. Now, out of the blue, a letter arrives hinting at the secrets he has been hiding for fifty years.To find out just how much the writer knows about his past Vander arranges to meet her in Turin. But he is thrown into emotional turmoil by this encounter with Cass Cleave, a deeply troubled young woman desperate to discover a reason to continue living; and the meeting of the two leads inexorably towards disaster. Written in Banville's faultless, almost painfully beautiful prose, Shroud is a novel which is not afraid to ask deep questions, nor to answer them emphatically.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Most of 'Shroud' is narrated by Axel Vander, a wonderfully bitter old man: he has lost his wife and he has come to the end of his career as a critic, and he now spends his time looking back at how he has lived. We learn that he has received a letter, and that the content of this letter has compelled him to travel to Turin (much is made of the presence - and absence - of the Turin Shroud); it seems that a young woman has discovered a secret in Vander's past, and Vander wishes to confront the woman. Part of the what hooks the reader in the novel's first phase is Banville's masterly use of the mystery of the secret and the mystery of the finder of the secret to build tension and anxiety: we are never quite sure of what it is that Vander hopes to achieve, but there is always the suggestion of aggression and anger in Vander's narrative. We are not prepared for what in fact occurs, in relation to the young woman and Vander. The lives of these two key protagonists become entwined in a beautiful and sad relationship that culminates in a powerful (and intentionally underplayed) tragedy.Read more ›
those of us who have read his previous books: the question of identity,
the unreliability of memory, the strange nature of the past. We have
been here before, in some form or other, either in the company of
Freddie Montgomery, the gentleman murderer and art critic from three
previous novels, or Victor Maskell, a man of very many facades, from
1997's 'The Untouchable'. Alex Vander, 'Shroud''s main voice, is an
amalgam of these creations, and through the course of the book Banville
ceaselessly circles around the the question of who Vander is, really,
starting from the book's opening interrogative, 'Who speaks?'. Some
solutions are offered, though of course past experience has taught us
to be very cautious in the presence of Mr. Banville's narrators. There
are always more surfaces than interiors.
Vander has arrived in Turin to meet Cass Cleave, one of the peripheral
spirits from Mr. Banville's previous novel, 'Eclipse', who may (or may
not, of course) know something about Vander's other life, before he
left Europe for America. Vander, a brutish old literary critic, is
worried that his elaborately constructed life may suddenly be exposed
as being as insubstantial as we know it is (we are, after all, in a
John Banville novel). This is the core of the narrative.
If this seems like a flimsy foundation for a novel, it is:
Mr. Banville's prose keeps the whole edifice standing. He writes very
well indeed, with sentences that demand to be turned and gazed at from
every angle. The point here is to make prose as lyrical as poetry, and
Mr. Banville comes as close as anyone to achieving this.Read more ›
Like Banville’s narrators in other novels, the elderly Axel Vander of Shroud is unreliable and often dishonest, self-concerned but not self-aware. Consummately venal (though beautifully realized), he is a character who blithely takes advantage of whatever circumstances arise, with no concern for the consequences, except to himself. Cass Cleave, the daughter of Alexander Cleave, the narrator of Banville’s previous novel, Eclipse, has visions and seizures, and Vander regards her as mad, but she and Vander develop a relationship of almost religious significance. He is a depraved and amoral old man living a life of personal un-truth, while she is a sick, avenging angel, striving to connect the disjunctions in her life so that she can become an integrated, whole person.
In Turin, where she joins Axel, Cass sees religious symbolism in common events, finding an ordinary breakfast a form of communion.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
John Banville, such an astonishing writer capable to generate and pass with no apparent effort from crime and betrayal to pure science, from mythical fantasy to human Love. Read morePublished on 12 May 2010 by Nora Gluckmann