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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Shroud (2002) by John Banville


Book Review
Shroud  (2002)
 by John Banville

  Irish author John Banville won the Booker Prize for his next novel, The Sea (2005) and Shroud similarly finds him in peak form, with a densely woven story about a Jewish Belgian who assumes the identity of a Nazi sympathetic non-Jewish classmate who dies during World War II. Shroud is squarely in the category of literature that treats World War II and the Holocaust as a symbolic, rather than personal event.    Shroud is part of a trilogy of novels from the "Alexander and Cass Cleave Trilogy" but the only one of the three to be included (the first novel in the trilogy was published in 2000 and the last in 2012.

   If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now- Banville is Literature capital L, like, decent odds to win the Nobel Prize in Literature type prose.   All of his books, I'm sure (except maybe the crime fiction he writes under a pseudonym) bear careful and even multiple readings.  I was comforted to read after finishing that Banville considers his main character "despicable," I was worried he was supposed to be sympathetic.  Shroud takes the form of Axel Vander, famous man of letters, reminiscing about his past as he prepares for a confrontation with a young woman (Cass Cleave) who is going to expose not only his assumed identity, but also pro-Nazi editorials written by the real Axel Vander before he died.

  Writing it in summary form as above does not do justice to the density of the prose. In fact, it's again hard to really appreciate Shroud without having an understanding of the plot outline before you start. When you are dealing with Literature capital L, making use of study aids before and during reading is perfectly acceptable. 

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