I was a teeny bit underwhelmed by Benjamin Black/John Banville’s most recent offering, Holy Orders. And suspicious, as I read it, that LA gumshoe Philip Marlowe had replaced Quirke in Black’s affections. After all, writers do sometimes get bored by their characters.
Not that there’s a huge difference between Marlowe and Quirke when you get right down to it. Oh, sure, they have different accents and vocabularies. They’ve been formed by different countries and different landscapes. But they’re both fundamentally solitary men with disastrous romantic track records and poor senses of self-preservation.
What makes the Quirke books special is Black’s narrative voice. What makes The Black-Eyed Blonde special is Black performing a ventriloquist’s version of Raymond Chandler. For instance: “The world, when you come down to it, is a scary place. And that’s not even counting the people.” Or
There’s something grand and thrilling about the rolling burble of a big V-8 engine when it’s idling; it always makes me think of one of those turn-of-the-century New York society ladies, the statuesque ones with bustles and hats and soft pale prominent throats. When I gunned the engine, the thing turned into Teddy Roosevelt, all noise and bluster.
Or “Around here there are days in summer when the sun works on you like a gorilla peeling a banana.”
Is it the Chandleresque rhythm, that playfulness with the language, the muffled melancholy peeking through that I so relish? Black seems to have captured the mood, the pacing, the setting of Chandler’s work while still managing to deliver a satisfactory plot. Actually, for my money he goes one better, because this was a plot I could actually follow. (More or less: Marlowe is hired by the gorgeous blonde of the title to find a dead man whom she’s seen alive. Mayhem and heartbreak ensue.) Much as I have enjoyed the Quirke books, and despite my usual skepticism about re-booting cultural franchises, I wonder if Black wasn’t born to write as Chandler. It’s that good a fit.
The Author’s Note at the end says that Chandler kept a list of titles to use for future work. One of them is “Stop Screaming — It’s Me.” I hope he’s working on that one right this moment.
On another note — it’s been a month since my last post, and this doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. I actually reread Rebecca (so much fun!) and dog-eared pages and summoned opinions and then just could not make myself sit down and write the post.
So maybe I’m tired — this is the 544th post on BGOO. Or maybe I’m too busy. (Nah — my nap schedule is intact.) But something needs to shift. So for now I’ll just post when a book really delights me. By the way, if you read one First World War book for the centenary, consider Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow which follows the war through individual primary sources on all sides of the war, military and civilian. Riveting.