three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Elegy for April.epsIrish novelist John Banville (he writes crime novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black) is the author of the Booker Prize–winning The Sea (4.5 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2006). Elegy for April is the third in a series featuring Garret Quirke, a hard-drinking pathologist and recurrent sleuth in 1950s Dublin, after Christine Falls (4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2007) and The Silver Swan (3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2008).

The Story: After checking out of rehab for a bender he was on in The Silver Swan, Quirke, still tormented, decides to start fresh by purchasing a fancy sports car. His life gets more complicated when his daughter's best friend, April Latimer, an independent-minded physician and the estranged daughter of a politically powerful family, disappears. Quirke, too, is worried, and he contacts a police inspector for help. As they start to investigate, Quirke meets some of April's friends' eccentric friends and comes face-to-face with her family's turbulent history--all the while navigating the thorny, racial, religious, and social politics of 1950s Dublin.
Henry Holt. 304 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780805090918

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"Black's elegantly elaborate prose takes Quirke along the byways of Dublin with bits of back story, side stories, old history and Dublin's secrets. ... This is a gorgeously written, beautifully constructed story that will remain with you long after the final page." Margaret Cannon

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The plot could scarcely by simpler, and the novel's climax, featuring an expensive Alvis sports car that Quirke buys and doesn't quite learn how to drive, feels a little contrived. ... John Banville, writing as John Banville, is a deep-dish writer, always dazzling, sometimes overwrought; when adopting the Benjamin Black persona, he relaxes, though the results, stylistically speaking, are no less striking." Richard Rayner

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Quirke books are so savvy, stylish and unencumbered by literary ambition that they deliver a lot of guilty pleasure. ... Set in the 1950s, when a fashionable woman may show up in a mink coat and ‘a little hat the size and blackness of a bat,' the Quirke books mirror the small-mindedness of their time (when Bing Crosby was popular) and place." Janet Maslin

Denver Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The greatest satisfactions of reading Elegy for April come from the atmosphere of 1950s Dublin, in which coal-fire-assisted smog impairs visibility; there are still veterans of the Irish Civil War around; horse-drawn jaunting cars stand at grand hotels; and everybody smokes all the time, including doctors in the hospital. ... If only the crime story were more intriguing." Merritt Moseley

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"For all its stress on the political reach of the mighty Latimers, the plot doesn't stray far from the domestic hearth, inhibiting the action and undermining a sense of urgency--aside from the suspense of wondering how long it will take Quirke to fall off the wagon and whether he'll sleep with one of his daughter's friends. There's also the problem of the dense family history Quirke lugs around from book to book." Marilyn Stasio

Critical Summary

If Elegy for April isn't the author's best book to date, it certainly boasts the elements for which he is known: a brooding, dark main character; a literary elegance; and, most of all, an evocation of a gloomy Dublin in which "class and religious divisions and [the city's] urgent, albeit repressed, sexual atmospheres helps his characters spring from the page" (Los Angeles Times). The only major point of contention was the plot, which a couple of critics felt was too contrived and slow. ("Mystery plotting is hardly [Banville's] primary concern," noted the New York Times.) But if readers won't lie awake turning the pages, they will cherish Banville's style. "When English prose looks like it's dying, the critic Cyril Connolly once said, an Irishman comes along with something to revive it and demolish the clichés" (Los Angeles Times).