Today’s dark and cloudy sky is the perfect weather to go with this book – not the painfully sharp sunlight, not the overly dramatic storm, but this dimness that seems to engulf everything. This really is how I see Mr. Banville’s prose: silent, unassuming, insinuating.
Shroud is tragedy, farce, mystery and May-December romance – but the total is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Deconstructing it would only subtract from its value, dissecting every fragment and action would only distract from the beauty of the entire picture. To me, this is one of those books that need to be experienced, because, more than the intricate (and occasionally pretentious) prose, it left me with one of those unnamable feelings – a calm wistfulness of sorts. And this is the moment I love most in reading – when a book ceases to simply be a series of words and becomes a part of me.
But I digress – and I manage to sound silly in the process.
Mr. Banville has to be king of the details – every action, every breath and every fold of skin becomes as real as if it were sitting in front of you. Dialogue is scarce and the story is told through an intimate record of thoughts, actions and memories (10 years ago I would have hated this sort of thing). The narration often switches from the first person (when dealing with Vander’s life) to the third (Cass’s involvement and bit of personal history), but makes this transition so organically, seamlessly that it almost skips right by you.
For a quick rundown of the story you can check out the 4 line Wikipedia article or a bunch of reviews: Telegraph, Guardian, NYT – they all do it so much better and I ever could. But to me, the book is not necessarily about Vander’s secret(s) or Cass’s descent into bona fide madness; it’s about the journey they take together and the complicated relationship it espouses. The shroud is mentioned often enough – after all, it takes place in Turin, home of the most famous shroud; but its meaning lies in its relation to Vander’s life: the shroud over his past, over his mistakes – the shroud of death that will soon encase him.