The Book of Evidence – John Banville

The story of Frederick Charles St John Montgomery as narrated by Freddie Montgomery. If there ever was an unreliable narrator it’s Freddie, guilty of murder and theft, in prison giving a statement on his life and his crimes.

Being at time superficial, like Freddie, I’ll begin with the physical aspect. I read a Picador Classic anniversary edition, nicely published paperback with an introduction by Colm Toibin. Unfortunately the book made me realise that I am not getting younger, the print was too small for me and my eyes were getting tired when I read longer, I had to force myself to come back to the book because of that.

Going back to Freddie – is he likeable? Big, resounding NO. Did I feel sorry for him?Sometimes. Is he a good storyteller? Yes, if the story is about him. He sometimes rambles and digresses a lot, but somehow keeps the story going. It is a beautifully written book, wonderful prose, rich language, never pretentious, but also never simplistic. Descriptions are extremely sensual, to a point of Freddie’s dream and the murder scene actually making me feel sick. That happened for the first time while I was reading, it does happen to me quite often with movies, but never before had I read descriptions so disgusting and resonating so much with my imagination, to actually make me feel nauseous. Very powerful language.

While recounting his story Freddie muses on the nature of reality, humanity, morality. He tries to shift the blame to his inner man, who was controlled before by the rules of society but now is free. Slowly through telling the story he realizes that he himself is actually to blame for his lack of imagination and compassion.

The book is full of references to other books and I’m sure every reader will have a field day identifying them. For me the one obvious one that weaves almost through the entire book is Freddie as a different face of Meursault from The Stranger by Camus. There is also reference to the ‘stain’ scene in Macbeth that not only serves to show Freddie’s distress, but also his eloquence.

It was definitely a feast for intellect, but because I found Freddie to be such a detestable personality I found it hard to emotionally engage. Not an easy read but worth it for the beautiful language if not for the characters.

Quotes from The Book of Evidence

It is part of my reading Ireland month, here you can see other books on the list.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

4 thoughts on “The Book of Evidence – John Banville

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