I've read many of the reviews, and while I agree with some of the criticisms (more on that later) I was so thoroughly caught up in tI loved this book.
I've read many of the reviews, and while I agree with some of the criticisms (more on that later) I was so thoroughly caught up in this murder mystery set in the pre-Dickensian era that I have to put it on my list of favorites. The atmosphere, the details, the environment was richly rendered, the characters were fully fleshed and three-dimensional, and the mystery was intriguing, properly grisly, intricate and always compelling.
It is about a schoolteacher named Thomas Shield who gets caught up in the private lives of two of his students, one of whom is the young Edgar Allan Poe. Neither one of the boys plays a huge personal role in the drama (Taylor has been criticized for calling his book "the American boy" when it is not actually about Poe per se) but their extended families are front and center, enmeshed in a web of greed, love, and lust for power. Thomas finds himself a pawn in the hands of powerful people and has to fight to resolve the mystery in order to save himself from doom.
Some people have said that Thomas Shield is not a wholly sympathetic character (I've noticed before this that Andrew Taylor tends to portray his male characters warts and all) but he's certainly sympathetic enough, and working my way through the mystery in his intelligent and perceptive hands felt very comfortable for me. Maybe he's not the most emotive of men, but I could imagine myself spending a very enjoyable afternoon talking with him, and what more can you want from a narrator?
Another complaint is be that the book is too slow and psychological in places. For instance, when they first go to the country there is a long section where relationships are being worked out almost in the manner of Jane Austen. Conversations are had, discoveries are made, links are forged day by day, and some readers found this tiring. I personally loved it, because I knew it was all working toward the setting up of whatever terrible thing was to come, and I found the character development fascinating in itself.
So I give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. And for those who like to really experience the feel of a different time and place, I say this was one of the best. The atmosphere of both London and the country was so well rendered that I felt I was experiencing firsthand the stink of the factories, the bustle and clang of the street traffic, the gray miasma of coal-infused fog, the frigidity of the "great estate" parlors, the jouncing of carriages over hard country ruts. When I finished I really felt I had come back from a journey to the past....more
**spoiler alert** Although John Banville is a very good and evocative writer, I was disappointed in this book, especially since, with some reservation**spoiler alert** Although John Banville is a very good and evocative writer, I was disappointed in this book, especially since, with some reservations, I quite enjoyed "Christine Falls". The characters were unpleasant, much of the mystery takes place in the head of the murdered woman in the months leading up to her murder, rather than from the perspective of the 'detective' figuring things out, which makes it more of a regular novel than a mystery, and the main bad guy was so, so, SO disgustingly amoral it made me sick. I also find myself wondering about this environment in which women fall into bed with men, no, wait -- BEG men to go to bed with them -- as easily as shaking hands. It's like a big male fantasy. They meet, they lock eyes, they fall into bed. They continue falling into bed even when it is completely clear they are being used, are about to be roundly dumped, AREN'T WANTED. The amoral bad guy is shaking them off with a stick (including the detective's daughter). Perhaps this is the boggy, depressed, alcohol-soaked, poetic, shady, gaelic (sp) world of Ireland, but I found myself wanting to shout: "For God's sake, women, show some self-respect!"
Also, the first mystery where the sleuth does not solve the mystery. We are told who did it by going into the murderer's mind. Never clear whether he/she is brought to justice.
Three stars because he is one hell of a writer. But it's his last mystery I'll read. ...more
Well written, atmospheric, but a narrative rather than a plotted novel. (As in E.M. Forster's memorable definition of the difference: ""The King diedWell written, atmospheric, but a narrative rather than a plotted novel. (As in E.M. Forster's memorable definition of the difference: ""The King died and the queen died" is a narrative, "The King died and the queen died of grief" is a plot.") An italian expatriate knocks around here and there in Europe circa 1938, fighting the fascists with his pen. Some of it works and some of it doesn't. And never do we know exactly what the point is. He does love this German woman -- though the only thing we are told about her is that she's great in bed -- and agrees to return to Italy on a quick mission so the British intelligence people will get her out of Germany. But again, we're not sufficiently engaged emotionally to care. Too bad. I had been hoping for another Grahame Greene....more
I had read "The Sea" by this author and abandoned it because the characters were so un-likeable, but I found this mystery much easier to stomach. TheI had read "The Sea" by this author and abandoned it because the characters were so un-likeable, but I found this mystery much easier to stomach. The characters were still pretty self-sbsorbed, including the protagonist/truth elucidator, but it just went down much more easily because he WAS trying to solve a mystery, and in the face of a lot of oppostion, so it gave me more sympathy for him. And after all the quick slick mysteries out there, it was nice to read one with multi-layered people, good psychology and good writing. There were some developments at the end I didn't quite buy, but I did stay up late for two nights reading, and I was pretty satisfied at the end. So, four stars....more
This was a very puzzling book for me. The first part has an insomniac older man constructing a story in his head around an imaginary civil war in AmerThis was a very puzzling book for me. The first part has an insomniac older man constructing a story in his head around an imaginary civil war in America in the wake of the 2000 election. I thought that something about the story would relate to his problems, the reason for his insomnia, but it didn't. Abruptly the story stops as all his characters get blown up, and for the rest of the novel the narrator has a long 'healing' talk with his grandaughter, really just an excuse for re-hashing his life and her problems. The two parts of the novel were unrelated, as far as I can tell. Paul Auster writes well, and I notice other readers in their comments mention previous books they enjoyed. Because of Auster's reputation and the premise of this book -- I love it when authors imagine what would have happened if different things had happened, historically, "the road not travelled" as it were -- I was looking forward to this but this left me feeling the editor should have sent the novel back and demanded some cohesion....more