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The Book of Evidence Paperback – June 12, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Frames Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Comparisons with Camus's The Stranger and Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment are not lightly made, but spring irresistibly to mind after finishing Banville's dazzling novel, which was short-listed for Britain's Booker Award and won Ireland's very rich Guinness Peat Aviation Award, adjudicated by Graham Greene. Banville, who has written three previous books but is not widely known here, is literary editor of the Irish Times. His protagonist and first-person narrator is Frederick Montgomery, a former scientist who has taken to drifting aimlessly through life, keenly self-conscious, a brilliant observer of himself and his surroundings, but with no coherent moral center. In the course of a pathetically absurd robbery attempt--he is trying to steal a painting, with which he has become obsessed, from a neighbor of his mother--he brutally and pointlessly kills a maidservant. He tells his story as he sits in jail awaiting his trial, imagining it as a courtroom statement. But is his account--hallucinatory, spellbinding, full of the poetry and pity of life--true? In response to that question from a police inspector, the novel's last chilling line: "All of it. None of it. Only the shame." Banville's style, which is spare yet richly eloquent, and his extraordinary psychological penetration, are what lift his novel to a level of comparison with the greatest writers of crime and guilt. It is difficult to imagine a reader who would not find The Book of Evidence both terrifying and moving.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Freddie Montgomery is a schizophrenic 38-year-old ex-scientist haunting dingy pubs who, nonetheless, ponders life and his illness via this superb novelized murder trial "confession." After study in America, Freddie returns to Ireland to find that his disowning mother has sold what he believes is part of his inheritance from his late father, some paintings that include an old Dutch master of a woman he thinks regards him with caring, benevolent authority. As he steals it, he murders a maid who catches him in the act. His lawyer advises him to plead manslaughter to quash evidence. Instead, the brooding, contradictory Freddie writes the "book of evidence" that we read. How much of it is true, how much sick fancy? Freddie makes us think, too.
- Kenneth Mintz, formerly with Bayonne P.L., N.J.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725237
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael S. Mahoney on May 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
John Banville has created a memorable villain with a "special, slow" smile. Freddie Montgomery is a beast of little burden. A dissolute son of privilege, he bungles his way into the All Ireland bludgeoning team where he joins the likes of Monaghan's Francie Brady and Mayoman Christy Mahon. In a monologue of sinister undertone Freddy recounts the unfortunate missteps that conspire to push him to the brink of desperation. He lands in debt, uses his wife and child as collateral, and travels to his ancestral patch to wring blood from a turnip. Erin has no welcome for this prodigal son. His opening gambit as art thief on the country estate circuit proves disastrous. Poor, poor Freddie, he can't do anything right. The novel contains a darkly comic murder scene involving a maid, a hammer, and a rented car which springs "forward in a series of bone-shaking lurches."
Our narrator, two years in the nick, grapples with age old questions, the poles of Catholicism and Calvinism tugging at his mind and soul. Freddie alternates between contrition and rationalization, questioning "whether it is feasible to hold on to the principle of moral culpability once the notion of free will has been abandoned." This existential conflict puts the novel in Camus territory. But Freddie, as character, as articulate lizard, most resembles Humbert Humbert. Villainy is always afforded a certain degree of sympathy if it accompanies such dazzling displays of imagery and word craft.
With leaps of imagination Banville breaths life into the inanimate and lends substance to shades of feeling that normally elude remark.
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Format: Paperback
"My Lord, when you ask me to tell the court in my own words, this is what I shall say." Thus begins "The Book of Evidence," the sardonic, self-pitying, occasionally witty, and ultimately unreliable narrative of Frederick Charles St. John Vanderveld Montgomery (a/k/a Freddie Montgomery). I say "unreliable" quite consciously, because Freddie Montgomery says as much throughout the novel, another in a long line of remarkable fictions from John Banville, perhaps Ireland's finest living author. As Freddie relates at the end of his tale, "I thought of trying to publish this, my testimony. But no. I have asked Inspector Haslet to put it into my file, with the other, official fictions . . . [H]ow much of it is true? All of it. None of it. Only the shame."
And what is Freddie Montgomery's story? An educated and brilliant academic, he married a young woman, Daphne, whom he met while teaching at Berkeley. He left academia for a dissolute life on a Mediterranean island. He became indebted there to apparently dark and unseemly characters, left his wife and young child behind, and returned to his family home in Ireland to obtain enough money to repay his debts. While in Ireland, he committed a brutal and seemingly inexplicable murder, fled the scene of his crime in a kind of "Lost Weekend" of drunken binging and obsession with his dark deed, and, ultimately, is apprehended and imprisoned. He writes the dark, powerful, obsessive interior monologue of "The Book of Evidence" while sitting in prison awaiting his trial.
The reader is never quite certain what to make of Freddie Montgomery. He is, indeed, a disturbed and disturbing narrator, someone who kills an innocent woman for no apparent reason, with chilling sang-froid.
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The Book of Evidence is a marvelous piece of literary, philosophical, and political fiction. This is what critic Eve Patten has to say about the novel and its author:
"Regarded as the most stylistically elaborate Irish writer of his generation, John Banville is a philosophical novelist concerned with the nature of perception, the conflict between imagination and reality, and the existential isolation of the individual. While his writing flirts with both postmodernism and magic realism, it is best understood as metafiction in the tradition of Samuel Beckett, Banville's acknowledged mentor. Like Beckett, he moves fluidly from Irish landscapes and characters to European contexts and histories, and from conventional narratives into fabulism and distortion. Relentlessly and some might argue, pretentiously allusive, his works play with both overt and hidden references to his literary idols, particularly Proust, Dostoevsky, and Nabokov. . . .
". . . The Book of Evidence (1989) consists of the prison memoir of Freddie Montgomery, on trial for the brutal murder of a female servant who interrupted his plan to steal a painting. Freddie is at once a disarming and objectionable narrator, blinded by his own ego, capable of the most intense response to the portrait he steals, but unable to empathise in any way with his human victim. At the heart of his predicament is his own existential insecurity, his perceived lack of substance: 'How shall I describe it, this sense of myself as something without weight, without moorings, a floating phantom? Other people seemed to have a density, a 'thereness', which I lacked. Among them, these big, carefree creatures, I was a child among adults.
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