three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The Silver SwanJohn Banville (The Sea, Award Star Booker Prize, 4.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2006), writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, introduced readers to the hard-drinking pathologist Garret Quirke in Christine Falls ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2007). In this sequel, set a few years later in 1950s Ireland, Quirke’s curiosity and interest in human nature again get the better of him. When an old college acquaintance asks him not to perform an autopsy on his wife, Deirdre, who supposedly committed suicide, Quirke suspects foul play, lies to the coroner’s court, and starts to investigate on his own. Soon, he’s on the path of a Sufi healer and a shady Englishman—Deidre’s beauty salon business partner—who now has his hands on Quirke’s estranged daughter, Phoebe.
Henry Holt. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 0805081534

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Christine Falls was the most artful noir mystery in years; The Silver Swan is better. The plot is grippingly propulsive, the evocation of Dublin is detail-perfect, every major and minor character is beautifully realized—and there isn’t a clunky sentence in the book." Tim Rutten

NO Times-Picayune 4 of 5 Stars
"The lonely characters that fill The Silver Swan linger in the mind—a puff of fog here, a shadow there. They ask the big questions, and they never seem quite happy with the answers they work out for themselves in this fascinating meditation on morality." Diana Pinckley

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Worth the price of this brilliant book alone is Black/Banville’s virtuoso use of cigarette smoking; how and when his people light up tells us volumes." Adam Woog

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Coincidence plays too big a role in the plot, with characters constantly passing each other on Dublin’s busy streets and relationships (including Quirke’s daughter and Deirdre’s business partner) springing up out of nowhere. … Ultimately, such plot failings may not matter." Clea Simon

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"The Silver Swan is a literary, gritty if less satisfying sequel with the clinically inquisitive pathologist named simply Quirke. … But don’t be surprised by the esteemed author’s use of such sentence-stoppers as peelers, squaddie and culchie. Maybe next time his editors will add a wee glossary for noir-loving non-Gaels?" Jane Sumner

Globe and Mail (Toronto) 2 of 5 Stars
"Whatever fat Benjamin Black sucked out of John Banville, he’s gone a treacherous step further in The Silver Swan and managed to remove much of the good gristle that filled out the characters in … Christine Falls." ANAKANA SCHOFIELD

Critical Summary

The Silver Swan raises two major questions: First, is Black-the-crime-novelist as good as Banville-the-novelist? Second, does The Silver Swan live up to expectations raised by Christine Falls? Not surprisingly, critics diverge on both questions. A few think that Black’s crime novels don’t stand up to Banville’s best work. "This distracting mediocrity doesn’t suit him at all," notes The Globe and Mail. Others cite Black as a genre-bending novelist intent on using the noir framework to successfully delve deep inside individuals’ psychologies. Either way, most critics agree that The Silver Swan, though well-written, is a slightly lesser effort than Christine Falls—with too many characters and coincidences, a likeable but uncharismatic protagonist, and a phlegmatic plot. Critics hope that The Silver Swan will send readers back to Christine Falls—or, better yet, back to Banville.