The mind of a sociopath

The Book of Evidence

Badge of An Garda Síochána

Badge of An Garda Síochána (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Banville‘s work is often difficult. Reading this short novel involved keeping a notepad and writing down words and names I wanted to look up – villous, Euphorion, accidie and so on – and you never quite know whether Banville is doing this to show off or because these are the sort of words he would use in everyday conversation.

But – as with The Untouchable and unlike, despite what the Booker judges thought, The Sea – this book is compelling and not just a slog. Banville paints an entirely believable portrait of a sociopath struggling to justify his actions in murdering a family friend’s servant in a botched art robbery. One can truly imagine the man and many of the other characters found here.

The one thing the book does not really do is give an insight into the murky politics of “The year of the GUBU“. The 1982 GUBU – grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented – was the moment when one of Ireland’s most wanted murderers was found to be a house guest of the Attorney General who had recently discussed his own case with the Commissioner of the Garda. Banville’s book is indeed based on this case, but only very loosely. There is no attempt here – as, say in The Heather Blazing – to examine why the regime of Charlie Haughey had so betrayed the values of the founders of the Irish state. This book looks inward rather than outward, but does it rather well.


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