Sunday, July 10, 2011

CHRISTINE FALLS by Benjamin Black

Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls is about evil in the 1950s Roman Catholic Church. 

Often scenes in the story alternate between Dublin and Boston.

Alcoholic pathologist Garret Quirke finds his "brother," also a physician, falsifying the record for Christine Falls' body in Dublin's  Holy Family Hospital morgue.  To investigate, Quirke has to delve into his dysfunctional family and into the sins of the church.

As I read this book, I thought of Carson McCullers. Black overpaints, paints stroke on top of stroke, setting the scene and telling an intensely personal story. 

This passage reflects the nature of the writing—

"They walked along together in silence, their breaths misting in the winter air.  They had acknowledged, with no words but only from each of them simultaneously an ironic, diagonally directed glance, the melancholy comedy of their like conditions, his smashed knee, her twisted hip.  There were ragged patches of snow under the trees.  The path was paved with wood chips.  The sharp, resinous odor of the chips reminded him of the pine woods behind the big stone house at Carricklea.  All around them quick brown birds, seemingly unfrightenable, were pecking busily among the dead leaves.  Grackles, were they? Choughs? He knew so little about [the United States], not even the names of its commonest birds.  The sky among the tracery of branches was the color of dulled steel.  His knee had begun to ache.  The nun wore no coat over her habit. . . .

"'Please,' he said, 'tell me about the child.  I’ve no intention of doing anything.  I simply want to hear what happened.'"

At one point in the story, the mother superior of an abusive convent-orphanage in Boston tells a rebellious nun, "These matters are not for us to judge!  We have our vows.  Obedience, Sister.  Obedience is the Lord’s will."

Therein lies one source of the evil.

Quirke is the adopted son of a well-known Dublin judge.  He and his brother, the judge’s natural son, married women who were sisters.  After Quirke’s wife and child die in childbirth, Quirke’s life becomes a sort of introspective hell.

As you can tell, this is a very Irish noir mystery.  It is drenched with religious sin and family dysfunction.

I recommend this book.

I learned of the book from my wife who heard part of an interview with Black on NPR.  Benjamin Black is the pen name of John Banville who is well-known for his writing in other genres.

Henry Holt and Co. recently published Black’s new Quirke book A Death in Summer.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I liked the book but he drives me crazy.

Joe Barone said...

Talk about a leading comment! Drives you crazy how?