The Book of Evidence – John Banville – Quotes

I have never really got used to being on earth. Sometimes I think our presence here is due to a cosmic blunder, that we were meant for another planet altogether, with other arrangements, and other laws, and other, grimmer skies. I try to imagine it, our true place, off on the far side of the galaxy, whirling and whirling. And the ones who were meant for here, are they out there, baffled and homesick, like us? No, they would have become extinct long ago. How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was made to contain us? – it’s scary how true that feels, looking at how people behave. Who else could live in a world designed for us? Even animals give up here on earth.

I am just amusing myself, musing, losing myself in a welter of words. For words in here are a form of luxury, of sensuousness, they are all we have been allowed to keep of the rich, wasteful world from which we are shut away.
O God, O Christ, release me from this place.
O Someone.

The long process of his dying wearied and exasperated me in equal measure. Of course I pitied him, too, but I think pity is always, for me, only the permissible version of an urge to give the weak things a good hard shake.

We had a lot of fun together laughing at the Americans, who just then were entering that stage of doomed hedonistic gaiety through which we, the gilded children of poor old raddled Europe, had already passed, or so we believed. How innocent they seemed to us, with their flowers and their joss sticks and their muddled religiosity. Of course, I felt secret twinge of guilt, sneering at them like this. I had been captivated by the country when I first came there, now it was as if I had joined in mocking some happy, good-hearted creature, the fat girl at the party against whom only a moment ago I had been pressing myself, under cover of the general romp, in wordless, swollen ecstasy.

No one knew exactly it was we were expected to achieve. We did statistical surveys, and produced thick reports bristling with graphs and flow-charts and complex appendices, which the government received with grave words of praise and then promptly forgot about. […] Inevitably there was a high incidence of looniness among the staff. […] Three years I spent there. I was not violently unhappy. I just felt, and feel, as I say, a little ridiculous, a little embarrassed. – feels like most of the office jobs really. Not making us violently unhappy, just feeling a bit stupid and sometimes useless. ‘Incidents of looniness’ is a lovely phrase, makes me imagine my office as it would look like when seen through a ‘looney tunes’ filter.

To place all faith in the mask, that seems to me now the true stamp of refine humanity.

I had never in my life been so entirely the centre of attention. From now on I would be watched over, I would be tended and fed and listened to, like a big dangerous baby. No more running, no more hiding and waiting, no more decisions. – that’s how Freddie felt when he got arrested, he felt freed of responsibility for himself. Funny how imprisonment and freedom can get mixed up.

This is the worst, the essential sin, I think, the one for which there will be no forgiveness: that I never imagined her vividly enough, that I never made her be there sufficiently, that I did not make her live. Yes, that failure of imagination is my real crime, the one that made the others possible. What I told that policeman is true –I killed her because I could kill her, and I could kill her because for me she was not alive. – this is why I always believed people who are cruel suffer some imagination deficit. How can someone be cruel if they can imagine how it feels. Maybe schools should introduce imagination classes.

My review of The Book of Evidence

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

3 thoughts on “The Book of Evidence – John Banville – Quotes

  1. There’s something about the way Banville uses words that’s almost magical. I’ve only read one of his books so far, The Blue Guitar, but I was marking quotes all over the place. Thanks for this – you’ve reminded me to read more soon… 🙂


  2. Pingback: The Book of Evidence – John Banville –

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