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Shroud Paperback – June 8, 2004

29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alex Vander is a fraud, big-time. An elderly professor of literature and a scholarly writer with an international reputation, he has neither the education nor the petit bourgeois family in Antwerp that he has claimed. As the splenetic narrator of this searching novel by Banville (Eclipse), he admits early on that he has lied about everything in his life, including his identity, which he stole from a friend of his youth whose mysterious death will resonate as the narrator reflects on his past. Having fled Belgium during WWII, he established himself in Arcady, Calif., with his long-suffering wife, whose recent death has unleashed new waves of guilt in the curmudgeonly old man. Guilt and fear have long since turned Vander into a monster of rudeness, violent temper, ugly excess, alcoholism and self-destructiveness. His web of falsehoods has become an anguishing burden, and his sense of displacement ("I am myself and also someone else") threatens to unhinge him altogether. Then comes a letter from a young woman, Cass Cleave, who claims to know all the secrets of his past. Determined to destroy her, an infuriated Vander meets Cass in Turin and discovers she is slightly mad. Even so, he begins to hope that Cass, his nemesis, could be the instrument of his redemption. Banville's lyrical prose, taut with intelligence, explores the issues of identity and morality with which the novel reverberates. At the end, Vander understands that some people in his life had noble motives for keeping secrets, and their sacrifices make the enormity of his deception even more shameful. This bravura performance will stand as one of Banville's best works.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

A scholar and born liar, the elderly but still contentious Axel Vander is about to have his cover blown when an equally contentious young woman enters his life. Banville's lucky 13th novel.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037572530X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725302
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #871,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of thirteen previous novels including The Book of Evidence, which was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Axel Vander tells us from the opening of this sensitive and tension-filled study of identity that he is not who he says he is. A respected scholar and professor at a California college, Vander is recognized for his thoughtful philosophical papers and books, especially his ironically entitled The Alias as Salient Fact: The Nominative Case in the Quest for Identity. Just before he leaves for a conference on Nietzsche in Turin, however, he receives a letter from a young woman in Antwerp, questioning his own identity and asking to meet with him. As the novel unfolds, we come to know more about the "real" Axel Vander and more about his mysterious correspondent, the emotionally disturbed Cass Cleave.
Like Banville's narrators in other novels, the elderly Axel Vander of Shroud is unreliable and often dishonest, self-concerned but not self-aware. Consummately venal (though beautifully realized), he is a character who blithely takes advantage of whatever circumstances arise, with no concern for the consequences, except to himself. Cass Cleave, the daughter of Alexander Cleave, the narrator of Banville's previous novel, Eclipse, has visions and seizures, and Vander regards her as mad, but she and Vander develop a relationship of almost religious significance. He is a depraved and amoral old man living a life of personal un-truth, while she is a sick, avenging angel, striving to connect the disjunctions in her life so that she can become an integrated, whole person.
In Turin, where she joins Axel, Cass sees religious symbolism in common events, finding an ordinary breakfast a form of communion.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Axel Vander tells us from the opening of this sensitive and tension-filled study of identity that he is not who he says he is. A respected scholar and professor at a California college, Vander is recognized for his thoughtful philosophical papers and books, especially on the nature of identity. Just before he leaves for a conference on Nietzsche in Turin, however, he receives a letter from a young woman in Antwerp, questioning his own identity and asking to meet with him. As the novel unfolds, we come to know more about the "real" Axel Vander and more about his mysterious correspondent, the emotionally disturbed Cass Cleave.

Like Banville's narrators in other novels, the elderly Axel Vander of Shroud is unreliable and often dishonest, self-concerned but not self-aware. Consummately venal, he blithely takes advantage of whatever circumstances arise. Cass Cleave, the daughter of Alexander Cleave, the narrator of Banville's previous novel, Eclipse, has visions and seizures, and Vander regards her as mad, but she and Vander develop a relationship of almost religious significance. He is depraved and amoral, and she is a sick, avenging angel.

In Turin, where she joins Axel, Cass sees religious symbolism in common events, finding an ordinary breakfast a form of communion. Artworks, especially crucifixion scenes by artists from the various settings in which the novel takes place (Cranach, Bosch, Memling, and Van Eyck in the Low Countries; and Tintoretto, Mantegna, and Bellini in Italy) further develop the symbolism. Always present in the background, of course, is the Shroud of Turin, which may be the real burial cloth of Jesus--or may not be. Parallels and contrasts between Vander and Jesus abound.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Patrick O'Brien on December 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Shroud" is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read and, unlike some authors, Banville doesn't sacrifice plot or character for the sake of style.
"Shroud" is the story of Axel Vander, "master of the lie." For many years Axel has posed as someone he is not but, at long last, his past is catching up with him in the form of the emotionally scarred and damaged Cass Cleve, who Vander arranges to meet in Turin, Italy, home of the famous "Shroud of Turin." It seems fitting to me that Cass and Axel meet in Turin since the shroud is one of the biggest frauds ever perpetuated on mankind.
I didn't care for either Cass or Axel. Both are quite unlikable, however, that wasn't the problem for me. I found some of the happenings in this book too much of a stretch; too unbelievable. The relationship that develops between Cass and Axel is just one such point. I can see Cass desiring that relationship, but I can't, for the life of me, see Axel letting it happen. It was simply "out of character" for him.
That said, "Shroud" is a beautiful book that will certainly appeal to lovers of literary and very serious fiction far more than to those who like a strongly plotted book. The reader should also be warned that this is a very melancholic and tragic book. I liked this aspect of "Shroud" but I feel that many readers will feel depressed at the book's end.
If you can tolerate reading about characters you can't like, if you don't need a strong plotline and if you are really willing to suspend your disbelief, then I recommend "Shroud" highly.
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