Dissecting a life: Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (2006)

Benjamin Black is the pseudonym of the writer, John Banville whom my SO assures me is a fearsomely literary Irish type who won the Booker a couple of years ago. Shows how much attention I pay to things like that. Despite this handicap, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it interesting and readable. I would agree with The Grumpy Old Bookman that whatever it says on the tin, it’s not a crime thriller, although despite what he asserts, there is in fact a crime, as a character is murdered. But I think it reads better as a straight historical novel.

The novel is very rooted in its time period, and gives a wonderfully evocative view of Irish society in the fifties, smothered in its ecclesiastical blanket. A society where everything is done on a nod and wink, without bothering the authorities, with its laundries and orphanages for inconvenient mistakes and the recalcitrant.

The protagonist, Quirke, is a pathologist, and the tale begins with a body. But the dissection Quirke must carry out is as much on his own life as on the corpse on the table before him. He is a well-realised character (as are all of them) deeply flawed and all too human.

I liked the twist at the end, but thought the rape was a clunky way of ensuring a rather unpleasant character got their come-uppance. What I did find annoying (and improbable) was the way that we never find out what Quirke’s first name is. Even his relatives all call him by his surname. Still, as I say, an enjoyable read, as much for the background as for the story.


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