Monday, May 11, 2009

the smell of worn pennies

I finished John Banville’s The Book of Evidence a couple days ago. I really enjoyed it, mostly because I enjoy despair and self-loathing, especially if it’s couched in a good story by writer with a fabulous vocabulary.

Banville is the saint of sumptuous sentences. Check this out:
“I drank my drink. There is something about gin, the tang in it of the deep wildwood, perhaps, that always makes me think of twilight and mists and dead maidens. Tonight it tinkled in my mouth like secret laughter.”

Okay, that’s three sentences. It’s mostly the center one I mean, but also the sequencing - 1) the simple set-up, 2) the sensual ravishing, and 3) the kill-off - is masterful.

I did a somewhat longer gush on Goodreads, but here I mostly want to point out his mastery of the “as if” construction.

1. “I had not thought paper would make so much noise, such scuffling and rattling and ripping, it must have sounded as if some large animal were being flayed alive in here.”

2. “His left eyelid began to flutter as if a moth had suddenly come to life under it.”

3. “She drove very fast, working the controls probingly, as if she were trying to locate a pattern, a secret formula, hidden in this mesh of small deft actions.”

4. “Her pale colouring and vivid hair and long, slender neck gave her a startled look, as if some time in the past she had been told a shocking secret and had never quite absorbed it.”

5. “When I spoke to her the poor girl turned crimson, and winclingly extended a calloused little paw as if she were afraid I might be going to keep it.”

6. “I have always loved that hour of the day, when that soft, muslin light seeps upward, as if out of the earth itself, and everything seems to grow thoughtful and turn away.”

I recommend this book (although Athena is better). I warn you that the murder is horrible and sad. Also, the characters are horrible and/or pathetic. A lot of reviews I read complained the main character was too despicable. Still, I recommend the book to anyone who thinks the “general awfulness of everything” can be redeemed by art.


BJeronimo said...

I enjoy the metaphor especially when it's used in such a simple yet unexpected way. In Steven King's book, On Writing, he says he (along with Amy Tam) finds that he's unappreciated in his use of language. And if you've read him, he too can paint a pretty good picture with metaphor.

In your poems and posts I've often enjoyed the escape from the page from the way you've made my mind imagine something by use of metaphor both ex/implicit. I really like your recent Carpet Inspector Slueth.

SarahJane said...

I read two Stephen King books - Dead Zone and The Stand. I really liked the latter (in 10th grade) but thought the former so-so. I should try another one.

BJeronimo said...

A friend just had some success, check it out:

Dominic Rivron said...

I might just read Athena - once I get through the pile of books I've set myself to read. It's almost as high as the small table next to it at the moment!

SarahJane said...

Dominic! That was the first Banville I read and it was marvelous, but it's actually part III of a trilogy and it's kind of hard to drop anchor. I stuck with it for the writing, but you might start with The Book of Evidence first.

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