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The Book of Evidence by John Banville

The Book of Evidence (original 1989; edition 1990)

by John Banville

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1,054127,976 (3.68)44
Title:The Book of Evidence
Authors:John Banville
Info:Minerva (1990), Paperback
Collections:ABE - BEL
Tags:Ireland, read

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The Book of Evidence by John Banville (1989)



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Narrated by Freddie Montgomery who is waiting trial from jail for the murder he committed while stealing a painting from the home of family friend.

The first half of the book is a weaving of Freddie’s memories and current thoughts. We learn that Freddie is from Ireland but has ben lving in the California and on a island in the Mediterranean with his wife and son. Freddie gets into some trouble with gangster, owes money and is forced to go home to get the money. At home, Freddie finds his mother to be quite poor. She says she was forced to sell the paintings because Freddie has been living off his father’s money. This angers Freddie who feels his mother has squandered his inheritance. Freddie visits the neighbor, goes back to steal a painting and is caught by a young maid which he forces to go with him and later kills. The second half of the book tells of his arrest and his interaction with the legal authorities.

I decided to read this rather short book because of the controversy in the 1001 Books You Must Read Group. It was a 5 star book for one and 2 stars from the guys. First, I knew that the murder description was graphic and it was so (I skimmed quickly over) and that there was description of vomit and there is some sexual stuff too. The narrator is totally unreliable and self focused thus narcissistic is a good description as well as antisocial and has also been referred to as amoral. In his narrative, at times it would appear that Freddie is trying to blame everyone and everything for what has happened. I agree with John, there is no remorse. The last line, is remorse that he has not been respected more and admired more for what has happened and he has taken on the idea that he can give life back to this girl nor do we the reader ever know what is truth. Freddie’s reality is so distorted. The story was based on the 1982 incident of Edward MacArthur, who killed a young nurse in Dublin during the course of stealing her car. The phrase grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented (GUBU) was paraphrased from a comment by then Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland, Charles Haughey, while describing a strange series of incidents in the summer of 1982 that led to a double-murderer being apprehended in the house of the Irish Attorney General. Edward MacArthur was staying with the attorney general and later resigned after MacArthur was arrested. Banville was attempting to give his prose more characteristics of poetry. The book won Ireland's Guinness Peat Aviation Award in 1989 and was short-listed for Britain's Booker Prize. There is a sequel to this book called Ghosts in which many of the characters reappear.

I didn’t find the book as distateful as the 2 star reviewers now maybe as 5 star as Shelley but I will give in 3.5 stars. I liked The Sea better in which the author does achieve the qualities of poetry. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
One of the most intriguing novels I've read in quite awhile not written nearly a century ago. Banville creates a likeable murderer, someone worthy of both pity and near admiration. One of the strengths of this novel is the point of view. Freddie Montgomery is the protagonist and also the book's unreliable narrator. He's entertaining, frustrating, and thoroughly hilarious in his own dark manner. Montgomery lets pieces of his life slip through his writing which is meant to be a confession and sort of testimony for the court. There are a few points where the narrator either backtracks and changes his story or admits what he has just said to be a lie which makes this novel a pretty fun sort of puzzle. Montgomery's life has been tumultuous if anything and what readers end up with is a man's character contained in about two hundred pages. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a novel which doesn't feed everything to its readers and which requires a willing participant in its form of mind game. Stick with this one if you don't quite jive with the first few pages. The ending is literary beauty. ( )
  hovercraftofeels | May 26, 2013 |
Hm. Definitely wasn't what I expected. Bit boring, actually. But there are a couple of prime moments where the book kicks you in the face in the most hilarious way possible with how unreliable the narrator is. So, not completely irredeemable. ( )
  Korrick | Mar 30, 2013 |
John Banville is one of my favorite authors and, although this is not my favorite of his novels, this book was my introduction to his work. It is narrated by Freddie Montgomery, a 38-year-old scientist, who murders a servant girl during an attempt to steal a painting from a neighbor. Freddie is an aimless drifter, and though he is a perceptive observer of himself and his surroundings, he is largely amoral. He is also an unreliable narrator who tells his life-story and recounts the events leading up to his arrest for the murder of a servant girl in one of Ireland's "big houses". A cultured but louche Anglo-Irish scientist who has been living abroad for many years, Freddie returns to his ancestral home seeking money after falling foul of a gangster in the Mediterranean. Shocked to discover that his mother has sold the family's collection of paintings, Freddie attempts to recover them. This leads to a tragic series of events culminating in Freddie's killing of a maid while stealing a painting. On the run, he hides out in the house of old family friend, Charlie, a man of some influence, before being arrested and interrogated.
It reminded me of one of the best novels I've read and reread, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, since like Ford, Banville has cannily constructed novel about sex, betrayal and self-deception, a novel whose narrator's testimony is notoriously unreliable and laced with internal contradictions. Mr. Banville's book also recalls other, mostly French, novels, among them Andre Gide's The Immoralist (which, like Mr. Banville's book, depicts the consequences of sexual repression) and Albert Camus's The Stranger (which concerns a senseless murder). ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Jan 8, 2013 |
As always with Banville the writing is exquisite and catches beautifully human frailties and venality. Never an author to use one word when two will do and not shy at challenging and expanding a reader’s vocabulary (how about minatory, flocculent, acedic, stravaig anyone?) Mr. Banville is a writer to stimulate and intrigue. The very complexity of language perfectly comments the complexity of our hero, a man with serious feet of clay. In drawing this man the author gives the character greater self awareness than most of us possess (or care to possess) and in doing so makes one flinch from time to time. At the same time Freddie is peculiarly blind in the way only enormous egos can be. A wonderful read and part of the evolving oeuvre of Banville. If you like this then know he only gets better. ( )
1 vote liehtzu | Mar 10, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375725237, Paperback)

John Banville’s stunning powers of mimicry are brilliantly on display in this engrossing novel, the darkly compelling confession of an improbable murderer.

Freddie Montgomery is a highly cultured man, a husband and father living the life of a dissolute exile on a Mediterranean island. When a debt comes due and his wife and child are held as collateral, he returns to Ireland to secure funds. That pursuit leads to murder. And here is his attempt to present evidence, not of his innocence, but of his life, of the events that lead to the murder he committed because he could. Like a hero out of Nabokov or Camus, Montgomery is a chillingly articulate, self-aware, and amoral being, whose humanity is painfully on display.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:30 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Freddie Montgomery is a gentleman first and a murderer second. He committed two crimes - he stole a painting from a wealthy family friend and he killed a chambermaid who caught him in the act. Here he tells his story.

(summary from another edition)

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