Provided by Alice's Book Group
Snow by John Banville is aptly named, as all sounds are deadened by a heavy snowfall, with only the occasional sound penetrating, so the action in this murder mystery seems to take place beneath a veil. There are, of course, the peaks of excitement, indeed the beginning could be the start of a dramatic ghost story, and a graphically described mutilated corpse could be upsetting; there are some sex scenes which are amazingly graphic too, one would imagine the snow might have melted around them, but no, the mist descended once more. Unfortunately the story and the detective together plod through both the action and the deep snow. Alice’s Book Group insisted I use the word “turgid” and it is the mot juste.
The detective is a pleasant fellow, though a trifle introspective to be effective; I think most of the readers were pretty sure of the whys and whos before he was, though there is a useful, but not totally unexpected, twist at the end and some of the scenes and characters are deftly described, if occasionally verging on the stereotype.
This is, however, also a well written book. The setting in 1957 rural Ireland allows the author to sketch in the tensions between the Roman Catholic Irish and the “English” Protestants, families who have lived in Ireland for generations, mostly now impoverished but clinging to their old ways, and he does perfectly describe the eccentricity of the “county” or aristocratic family, and the chill of their shabby manor house which matches the snow clad fields around. Banville can evoke the period deftly: “a lampshade small as a cup made of what could have been human skin, stretched and dried and translucent” - my grandmother had one of those; two ‘caddish’ characters wore suits “too well cut,” facile, but a telling description.
The hackneyed plot does not match the writing, a priest abusing children, homosexual love, the Church doing a cover- up, frustrated or unbalanced females, not to mention a hint at the nuns’ laundries for unmarried mothers. All these are terrible, shocking things, but they have been done to death in fact and in fiction so the impact when inserted in a novel is less that effective.
Despite its failings, this is a not a bad book. One is drawn along by the prose, there is a vivid image on every page, the characters are, mostly, believable, while there is enough going on to hold the attention, so while we found fault, we also appreciated this wintry tale.