Benjamin Black 6/7 Picador Dhs83 Available from Magrudy’s
John Banville, 2002 Booker Prize winner, can certainly write novels. Yet when a literary giant decides to try his hand at a less exalted genre, one can be forgiven a little scepticism. However, Banville – or his alter ego Benjamin Black – turns out to have a gift for thriller writing. As Black, he dips his pen in darker ink, giving just enough away to keep our attention, but never enough to render the plot predictable.
William Mulholland, ex-CIA agent and respected billionaire, recruits his son-in-law John Glass, a renowned journalist, to write his biography. The fee is considerable, but worth it to Mulholland, who wants to deter a less compromised member of the fourth estate from writing a damaging exposé. Glass is entering dangerous territory: he knows he should keep any compromising information to himself. Nevertheless, he hires a precocious young researcher, Dylan Riley, to dig a little deeper into Mulholland’s past. Riley is a strange creature: Glass nicknames him ‘the lemur’ for his rodent-like features and large, reflective eyes. When Riley is found dead – significantly, he’s been shot through one of those large eyes – it’s the catalyst for the unveiling of a crime that radically alters the characters’ perception of the past, even as it changes their present.
The Lemur has pace and bravado; the writing is sharp and the timing flawless while the prose, naturally, is brilliant. In fact, the only disappointment is an ending so abrupt it leaves you reeling – but in a murder mystery perhaps that is appropriate. Rosanna Lund
Oscar’s Books 5/7 Chatto & Windus Dhs111 Available to order from Magrudy’s
Oscar Wilde would presumably be delighted that authors are still dreaming up new ways to write about him, and this excellent biography has a nice hook on which to hang a life that has already been investigated umpteen times. After Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895, his personal library was sold; Wright rifles through that long-defunct library in order to tell his story.
A book about an author’s books might sound tiresomely self-regarding, but Wright makes clever use of his material to examine Wilde’s lifestyle and philosophy as well as his writing, giving us an insight into both the man and the intellectual milieu in which he moved. Wilde had a voracious appetite for books from an early age. Books fed his own writing, of course, but also led him to friends (he courted Walt Whitman’s friendship by presenting him with his own poems) and lovers as well as providing some solace in his most wretched moments. Wright explores Wilde’s aesthetic, political, poetic and cultural theories via his reading as well as using the ways he annotated, inscribed and otherwise marked books to ponder the way this fiendishly bright but flawed writer thought. The Wilde that emerges is temperamental and contradictory but also widely read – and, appropriately, Catholic in his tastes, reading his sons fairy stories, quoting Flaubert and Plato as well as popular French novels and enjoying the sensation-alism of Disraeli.
And, since much of the knowledge he gained reappeared in his own books – most famously, his use of Walter Pater in The Picture Of Dorian Gray – these insights help us to gain a more complex understanding of Wilde as author and as member of the Anglo-Irish elite, rather than just the flamboyant aphorism-spouting individual still so beloved by the popular imagination.
Sure, there’s nothing new here in terms of biographical detail. But resurrecting and reanimating Wilde’s reading habits, and those of his milieu, is a delightful idea, allowing us to look at Wilde, as it were, from the other side of the bookcase. Jerome de Groot