Books

'Elegy for April': Benjamin Black's New Dublin Noir

John Banville's alter ego resurrects Quirke in another 1950s Dublin noir adventure.


Elegy for April

Publisher: Henry Holt
Length: 304 pages
Price: $25
Author: Benjamin Black
Publication Date: 2010-04
Amazon

Family ties, as a verb, here. Fog shrouds Dublin, secrets haunt their keepers, and, under John Banville's pen, intimacy once more curdles into revenge, hatred, and murder.

Christine Falls I much preferred for its characters and mood rather than its mundane, if convoluted, plot. I favored The Silver Swan for its more exotic touches, and its elaborate focus on Quirke's battle with the bottle. (In this and in the evocation of portside Irish cities, it reminds me of Ken Bruen's Galway noir Jack Taylor series, on the other side of the island in our globalizing, gentrifying decade, nearly unrecognizable as sharing territory with Quirke's domain. Still, the decay continues.)

John Banville writing as Benjamin Black enriches this third installment with meditations on mortality, night terrors, dreams gone wrong, and always the fog creeping in, staying inside after it sneaks in a door so a wisp stays like an "ectoplasm." The tug of families and their indiscretions, the public face hiding the private sin, as in so many Irish stories, blankets this mystery.

"Grains of mica glittered in the granite of the steps; strange, these little secret gleanings, under the fog."(4) Some of the author's best writing as either Banville or Black can be found here, which is saying something. Quirke grows on you, and you want his own fumbling reaching out for love from his daughter and from his new lover to succeed. I miss his co-worker Sinclair's jibes, and there's comparatively little time at his job at the morgue this time, but you gain more appreciation of his domestic life, or its lack: "Quirke's flat had the sheepish and resentful air of an unruly classroom suddenly silenced by the unexpected return of the teacher."(33)

Black moves among a few characters for indirect first person narration in Joycean style. This helps widen our familiarity with 1950s Dublin, and the tone shifts subtly. Via Patrick Ojukwu from Nigeria, we imagine what it was like to live in Ireland then. No bribes exacted by the natives, "but neither would they take you seriously. That was what puzzled him most of all, the way they mocked and jeered at everything and everyone, themselves included. Yet the laughter could stop without warning, when you least expected. Then suddenly you would find yourself alone in the midst of a circle of them, all of them looking at you, blank-eyed and silently accusing, even though you did not know what it was you were being accused of."(210)

The first third sets the scene and sets up the mystery; the second part broadens the suspects; the final third accelerates and the last 15 pages hasten to bring it all together. It's done briskly but without any cheating, and I found it rather hasty, but in the spirit of many mysteries, such is their pace. I recommend Elegy for April; while it can be read on its own, those who enjoyed the earlier books will benefit the most from another few hours with Quirke, Phoebe, Hackett, and their new circle among the "little band" and those it widens to encompass in another circle.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image