The Book of Evidence

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE won Ireland’s prestigious Guinness Peat Aviation Award for 1989. This novel is a dark lyrical probing into what motivates someone who sees himself as an outcast. Freddie Montgomery, a one-time scientist, narrates the sordid events that led him to his brutal murder of a maid after he had ineptly attempted to steal a painting from a friend’s residence. Banville places his narrator in jail awaiting trial. Montgomery demands his day in court so that his confession will be heard.

Montgomery, though once a scientist, reveals that he gave that up so he could wander about the Mediterranean islands with his wife and small child. He senses that he has failed in the eyes of his mother as well as in the eyes of everyone else who has been close to him. This is made clear by Montgomery himself. Oddly enough, he is keenly observant and pointedly honest. He does not spare himself or anyone else in his confession. But will any judge ever be so tolerant as to listen to such a wildly inventive statement? Banville’s prose is eloquent. The tale is spellbinding. Montgomery may be a monster, but there is a universality to him. He is not a freak, but nevertheless he becomes all the more frightening.

The confession is richly detailed, yet there is no clear motive for the murder. Montgomery states that he killed the maid because he could, because she was not totally real to him. Supposedly, he had come back to Ireland because his wife and...

(The entire section is 407 words.)