Saturday

Reflections: Shroud



Samuel Johnson once crafted a simultaneously admiring and damning summation of the work of novelist Samuel Richardson with this statement: "[i]f you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment." Replace "Richardson" with Banville" and both "sentiment"s with "characterization" and you have a relatively fair assessment of John Banville's Shroud (2002).

Shroud places two odd personages in explosive proximity and then steps back to see what happens. Cass Cleave, a mentally unstable young woman with an Electra complex, provokes a meeting with an ancient, narcissistic academic whom she has discovered to have underhandedly taken on  the pseudonym Axel Vander in his late adolescence. Cleave's lack of clarity regarding what she would like to accomplish with the encounter finds its parallel in the story's uncertainty about what exactly it proposes to do with the reader it has invited into its pages.

As improbable as it may sound given the description above, Shroud might best be described as a love story. "Vander" watches his body decay and finds little to comfort him in his long-held, militant disbelief in inherent individuality. What he therefore allows himself to discover, in Cass and in retrospective consideration of his past affairs, is that despite what philosophers might posit about the unimportance of the self, the strange human habit of loving and coupling provides a constant, insistent rebuttal.

3 comments:

whisperinggums said...

Oh my daughter read this and loved it. I read his The sea and really liked it. He's a stylish writer...

whisperinggums said...

PS I love your intro to this review!

Mille Feuille said...

Thanks, Whispering Gums, for recommending _The Sea_. I'll probably put that on the list of TBR; its reviews suggest that Banville has an attachment to themes and literary techniques that run through both novels. I'll be interested to follow those through and see how he handles them in another work of fiction.
Thanks, too, for your kind comment about the intro *smile*.