Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Benjamin Black, and the subtext of imagery

While on vacation in western Ireland -- after too many years since my last visit – I’m taking the opportunity to read some mystery novels by Irish authors I haven’t read before.  It’s been a joy.  And recording the blog “on location” makes me think I should focus my reading list on thriller writers from prime holiday spots, just to have an excuse to visit.  Here we’re on the beautiful and rugged Burren in County Clare, and I’ll steal some time from the blog to have a look around with you.

But first we’ll talk about A Death in Summer, by Benjamin Black, the pen name of famed author John Banville.  Banville won the Booker Prize for his novel The Sea, and he is a master of lyrical prose and sharply defined imagery.  Here we’ll look at how his descriptions help to underline the emotions and situation of his protagonist. 

This is the first post in which I’ve read directly from the page, and unfortunately the wind gusting off the sea likes to interrupt me.  It’s Murphy’s Law (Murphy being an Irish name, of course…) So I’ve included the text of Black’s scene below, so that you may read along with me and enjoy his words for yourself. 

From Benjamin Black’s A DEATH IN SUMMER, read in LiG Episode 3:

She came forward until she was standing before him.  She was not small for her age, yet the top of her head barely reached the level of his diaphragm.  He caught her child’s smell; it was like the smell of day-old bread.  Her hair was a deep gleaming black, like her mother’s.  “Would you like to see my room?” she asked.
            “Your room?”
            “Yes.  You said you came in to see the house, so you should see the upstairs, too.”  He tried to think of a way of declining this invitation but could not.  She was a strangely compelling personage.  She put her right hand in his left.  “Come along,” she said briskly, “this way.”
            She led him across the room and opened the door.  She had to use both hands to turn the great brass doorknob.  In the hall she took him by the hand again and together they climbed the stairs.  Yes, that was what he felt like: the misunderstood ogre, monstrous and lumbering but harmless at heart.
            “How did you know who I was?” she asked. “Have you seen me before?”
            “No, no.  But your mother told me your name and I thought you could not be anyone else.”
            “So you know maman quite well, then?”
            He thought about this for a moment before answering; somehow she compelled serious consideration.  “No, not very well,” he said. “We had lunch together.”
            “Oh, did you,” she said, without emphasis.  “I suppose you met her when Daddy died, since you’re a doctor.  Did you try to save his life?”
            Her hand was dry and cool and bony, and he thought of a fledgling fallen from the nest, but this was a fallen fledgling that would no doubt survive.  “No,” he said, “I’m not that kind of doctor.”
            “What other kinds of doctor are there?”
            She was leading him now across a broad landing spread with a Turkish rug in various shades of red from rust to blood-bright.
            “Oh, all sorts,” he said.
            This answer she seemed to find sufficient.
            Her room was absurdly large, a great square space painted white all over, with a white ceiling and a spotless white carpet and even a white cover on the small narrow bed.  It was alarmingly tidy not a toy or an article of clothing in sight, and not a single picture on the walls.  It might have been the cell of a deeply devotional but incongruously well-to-do anchorite.  It made Quirke shiver.  The only splash of color was in the single tall sash window opposite the door that gave onto Iveagh Gardens, a rectangle of blue and gold and lavish greens suspended in the midst of all that blank whiteness like a painting by Douanier Rousseau.  “I spend a lot of time here,” the child said. “Do you like it?”
            “Yes,” said Quirke, lying. “Very much.”

No comments:

Post a Comment