Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The third Qurke, by "Benjamin Black"

Elegy for April is the third book about Dr. Quirke, Dublin pathologist in the 1950s, by John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. The book is very well written, allusive and involving. The story relies on a good deal that a reader will know from Christine Falls, the first Quirke book, and will perhaps baffle someone who picks it up cold.

The plot, which is fairly static for the first 270 of its 293 pages in the U.S. edition, concerns April, a friend of Phoebe, Quirke's daughter, who has not been heard from by any of her friends in several weeks. Most of the book is Phoebe and Quirke going around together or separately inquiring of April's relatives and friends and looking around April's flat.

There's no investigation to speak of (unlike other fictional pathologists, Quirke's job isn't exploited by Black/Banville for plot potential), though Quirke involves his friend Inspector Hackett, and there are a few sexual encounters to liven things up. But mostly the book is Banville's prose, elegant in its flow and incisive in its particular images. The book as a whole is curiously both heavy and light, though perhaps not quite heavy enough for literary ambitions but too light for a crime novel, really.

When a sort of resolution is reached (by means in part of a very specific automobile that has been lurking in the plot, waiting anxiously for its moment of pertinence), it involves the same kinds of damaged families as inhabit the contemporary crime novels of Declan Hughes, but passed over quickly in those final 23 pages. Elegy for April is a quick read, probably of most interest to people who got involved in Quirke's character and story in the first two books (and who will be interested to discover his hesitant steps out of intoxication and into a relationship), and to lovers of efficient and lively prose (more efficient and certainly lighter than Banville's books under his own name).

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