Benjamin Black is history, and so can you
|John Banville signing|
at Gutter Bookshop,
Dublin. Photo by your
Holy Orders is the sixth novel in Banville/Black's series about Quirke, a police pathologist in 1950s Dublin, and Black showed that he has his historical-novelist head screwed on right.
"Rome was our capital" in the 1950s, Banville told interviewer Olivia O'Leary at Smock Alley Theatre, Ireland's politicians taking their cue from the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, he said, he refuses to give his characters the benefit of hindsight. They don't know what the church is doing to them, and they — or Quirke, at least — can't learn from it. No characters spouting reassuringly progressive sentiments here, and the gap between what the characters know and what the readers know is a nice source of tension.
Here's part of what I wrote about the fourth Quirke novel, A Death in Summer:
"John Banville distinguishes between the artistic pleasure he derives from the literary novels he writes under his own name and the craftsman’s pleasure he gets from the crime fiction he writes as Benjamin Black. This makes it fair to ask a craftsman’s questions of the Black books: How well do the parts fit together? How smoothly does Black execute them? Are they beautiful? Do they work? Does the finished product perform the functions essential to an object of its kind?"Get all the answers in the complete review, which appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
With Banville's remark about characters and hindsight in mind, what must a contemporary author do to make historical fiction work?
© Peter Rozovsky 2013