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Shroud Paperback – Jun 8 2004
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
"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 morePublished on Dec 26 2003 by Patrick O'Brien
Axel Vander admits in the opening pages of SHROUD that he is a liar, that he has lied his entire life. Read morePublished on Dec 24 2003 by S. Calhoun
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 morePublished on June 15 2003 by Jeffrey Leach
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 morePublished on June 3 2003 by Robert E. Olsen
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 morePublished on March 17 2003 by Mary Whipple
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 morePublished on March 16 2003 by B. Artese
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 morePublished on March 7 2003 by Mark Sarvas