The Book Of Evidence: a book review

We are led to authors and books in various ways but this was one of the more unusual. I follow a fan page of Cillian Murphy on Instagram because Cillian plays the most engrossing lead character in the multiple seasons of Peaky Blinders. This Instagram fan page posted a short video of Cillian talking about the Irish author John Banville in glowing terms, describing John’s writing as at times “lyrical”.  I was intrigued of course and had to read some of his work. I chose this one, The Book Of Evidence, to start with, mainly because it had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989. I was only a couple of pages in when I found this first impression of being in prison:

It was the noise that impressed me first of all. A terrible racket, yells and whistles, hoots of laughter, arguments, sobs. But there are moments of stillness, too, as if a great fear, or a great sadness, has fallen suddenly, striking us all speechless. The air stands motionless in the corridors, like stagnant water.

I had to pause and let that soak in. Immediately I was engrossed and could readily appreciate Cillian’s lyrical comment.

This is a monologue by an unsympathic cad of a man, Freddie Montgomery, continually cadging off others as he drifts through the world with few saving graces. The inspirational writing and the hope that the ending left me with saves this book from descending into the mire that Freddie continually finds himself in. I was surprised when the ending arrived but on reflection, it was probably the apt place to leave it.

We find Freddie in prison at the start of the book and then follow him reflecting on the events leading up to the horrific crime that have resulted in him landing in prison. The crime, like many things it seems in his life, appears to happen almost by accident.

My journey, like everyone else’s, even yours, your honour, had not been a thing of signposts and decisive marching, but drift only, a kind of slow subsidence, my shoulders bowing down under the gradual accumulation of all the things I had not done.

The sense of hope however, that I found at the end, was fostered by the introspection and prospect for character change in the circumstances we follow Freddie through. The subject matter may sound unappealing but the quality of the writing definitely carries us above that.

As I found out later John Banville actually won the Booker Prize in 2005 with “The Sea” which is now sitting in my iPad waiting to be read. I also discovered later that “The Book Of Evidence” forms part one of a trilogy so I have now had to purchase “Ghosts” and “Athena” also to round out the trilogy. Is there any higher praise I can attribute to a book?

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