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Shroud [Paperback]

John Banville
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 8 2004 Vintage International
One part Nietzsche, one part Humbert Humbert, and a soupcon of Milton’s Lucifer, Axel Vander, the dizzyingly unreliable narrator of John Banville’s masterful new novel, is very old, recently widowed, and the bearer of a fearsome reputation as a literary dandy and bully. A product of the Old World, he is also an escapee from its conflagrations, with the wounds to prove it. And everything about him is a lie.

Now those lies have been unraveled by a mysterious young woman whom Vander calls “Miss Nemesis.” They are to meet in Turin, a city best known for its enigmatic shroud. Is her purpose to destroy Vander or to save him—or simply to show him what lies beneath the shroud in which he has wrapped his life? A splendidly moving exploration of identity, duplicity, and desire, Shroud is Banville’s most rapturous performance to date.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Alex Vander is a fraud, big-time. An elderly professor of literature and a scholarly writer with an international reputation, he has neither the education nor the petit bourgeois family in Antwerp that he has claimed. As the splenetic narrator of this searching novel by Banville (Eclipse), he admits early on that he has lied about everything in his life, including his identity, which he stole from a friend of his youth whose mysterious death will resonate as the narrator reflects on his past. Having fled Belgium during WWII, he established himself in Arcady, Calif., with his long-suffering wife, whose recent death has unleashed new waves of guilt in the curmudgeonly old man. Guilt and fear have long since turned Vander into a monster of rudeness, violent temper, ugly excess, alcoholism and self-destructiveness. His web of falsehoods has become an anguishing burden, and his sense of displacement ("I am myself and also someone else") threatens to unhinge him altogether. Then comes a letter from a young woman, Cass Cleave, who claims to know all the secrets of his past. Determined to destroy her, an infuriated Vander meets Cass in Turin and discovers she is slightly mad. Even so, he begins to hope that Cass, his nemesis, could be the instrument of his redemption. Banville's lyrical prose, taut with intelligence, explores the issues of identity and morality with which the novel reverberates. At the end, Vander understands that some people in his life had noble motives for keeping secrets, and their sacrifices make the enormity of his deception even more shameful. This bravura performance will stand as one of Banville's best works.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

A scholar and born liar, the elderly but still contentious Axel Vander is about to have his cover blown when an equally contentious young woman enters his life. Banville's lucky 13th novel.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough to Rate works of JOHN BANVILLE'S May 21 2004
Format:Hardcover
3.9
First, I want to point out that I dislike a book that requires a lot of reading efforts, but gets very little story at the end. SHROUD is such a book.
And nevertheless, SHROUD is quite an IMPRESSIVE book to read. It takes me more than three weeks of hard working (I mean slow reading time) to finish it. The last book took me this much efforts was Salman Rushdie¡¯s ¡°THE SANTONIC VERSES¡± -a book after a strenuous start, I had to put it down for more than six months, and only returned to it recently from Chapter 2.
SHROUD is John Banville¡¯s second book I have read after 'GHOST', and like many readers before me, any book from Banville is a treat for regardless the story and content, readers are given the chance to sample possibly the finest written literature from one of the world¡¯s most stylistically elaborate writers in writing today.
This book is about deception, deceit, false identity, fraud and cruelty. In my opinion, One reads SHROUD for the quality of writing instead of story (same may also apply to other books of Banville¡¯s), for John Banville writes metafiction, which in form, concerned with the nature of perception, the conflict between imagination and reality... of verbosity and elements may serve to hinder a story¡¯s natural-flow. You don¡¯t suppose get a straight story as you may get from reading books written by different authors.
Reading SHROUD, you read page after page monologues, thoughts-process and long-wind sentences. And such trying exertion (verbosity) is fully expected from a philosophical novelist like Banville, while his writing flirts with both postmodernism and magic-realism.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Secrets and Lies March 20 2004
Format:Hardcover
SHROUD is the story of Axel Vander, "master of the lie." Of course, I realize the character of Vander is, in actuality, based on the late literary critic Paul de Man and the series of pro-Nazi newspaper articles de Man once authored in Belgium, but Banville is such a good writer and such an imaginative one,
that SHROUD has become Vander's story (and a work of fiction) far more than it is de Man's.
Axel Vander is an eminent literary theorist...maybe...for Axel Vander, we learn at the beginning of the book, is not the protagonist's "real" name.
Axel Vander has been "Axel Vander" for many years, however. Little by little, piece by piece, Banville lets us know that Vander is a Jew who escaped the Holocaust only by assuming the name of a murdered Aryan friend. And Vander, himself, is strongly anti-Semitic, but to tell you why would be giving away
too much of the plot of this wonderful book.
Alex Vander is a particularly unsympathetic protagonist. Although of European origin, he's been living and teaching literature in the pretty California town of Arcady (fictional) for many years. He's brilliant, but that brilliance seems to be Vander's one "good" quality. He's also pompous, arrgant, a habitual liar and an unlikely womanizer. Banville has even made Vander physically repulsive as well. He's blind in one eye and has a bad leg that makes it difficult, though not impossible, for him to walk. A blind eye and a bad leg aren't reasons enough to find someone physically repulsive, but Vander's descriptions of himself are. Banville goes to great lengths to make sure we despise Vander and everything he represents.
SHROUD opens with the arrival of a letter, a literary device that, in the hands of an author less skilled than Banville, would have been trite and cliched.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Banville epitomizes the literary fiction March 9 2004
Format:Hardcover
Shroud, like other novels by John Banville, is beautifully written against a vividly limned background. The main character, Axel Vander, is conceited, obnoxious, and goes out of his way to offend the readers. He identifies himself as a masterly liar who lies about almost everything, even when there is no need and even when the plain truth will be so much more effective in maintaining the pretence. I will not be surprised at his unreliable narration, shameless boasting and impudent lies as he spatters out the tale of his life.
The shocking secret is that Axel Vander is not the real Axel Vander but has ineluctably appropriated the identity of an actor. He has impudently maintained the deception for over half a century since the time of danger during World War II. He must have thought he had shaken off his far past and wiped out all vestige of his old identity until the letter of Cass Cleave confronts him with irrefutable proof of his imposture. Banville devotes almost the whole novel chronicling Axel Vander's life, his delirious reflections, his reminiscence of his wife, the disturbing details of his impregnable alibi - all the minute heart-pricking details that permits Cass Cleave to privy the impostor's secret. Banville has written a beautifully crafted thriller, with meticulous prose, that prepares readers for the dreadful moment - the meeting of Axel Vander and his nemesis from whom he is so overwrought to buy silence for fear of being exposed.
The prose is incredulously lyrical, rich, and refined - so much more compressed and yet detailed any prose in most contemporary fiction. Banville is one of the few living author who can maintain the flow of a novel with a taut sense while flourishing different themes as well as exploring and exposing, delineating the intricacies of human emotions.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Writing, Less than Believable Plot
"Shroud" is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read and, unlike some authors, Banville doesn't sacrifice plot or character for the sake of style. Read more
Published on Dec 26 2003 by Patrick O'Brien
3.0 out of 5 stars "All my life I have lied."
Axel Vander admits in the opening pages of SHROUD that he is a liar, that he has lied his entire life. Read more
Published on Dec 24 2003 by S. Calhoun
5.0 out of 5 stars Meet Axel Vander
Imagine my overwhelming surprise when I dug deep into John Banville's "Shroud" and discovered a book oozing with sumptuous prose stylings, beautifully shaped characters, sumptuous... Read more
Published on June 15 2003 by Jeffrey Leach
5.0 out of 5 stars Superman
Axel Vander, the narrator of John Banville's "Shroud," is the latest and, according to Banville, will be the last of his "self-hating, murderous" central characters, the kind that... Read more
Published on June 3 2003 by Robert E. Olsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Axel Vander, "a virtuoso of the lie."
Axel Vander tells us from the opening of this sensitive and tension-filled study of identity that he is not who he says he is. Read more
Published on March 17 2003 by Mary Whipple
1.0 out of 5 stars Another dishonest and opportunistic slur against Paul de Man
Banville is just the latest in a long line observers on a righteous crusade to discredit a writer that they clearly have never read. Read more
Published on March 16 2003 by B. Artese
5.0 out of 5 stars Banville continues darkly ...
In Eclipse, Banville's previous novel, we met the actor Alex Cleave, coming to terms with might conventionally be termed a mid-life crisis. Read more
Published on March 7 2003 by Mark Sarvas
5.0 out of 5 stars Lies Are Life�s Almost-Anagram
Author John Banville writes extremely intense portraits of people, and in, "Shroud", he has written about a character that is as absolute in his misery as any other character has... Read more
Published on March 4 2003 by taking a rest
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