“Christine Falls”, an Irish Crime Novel

“Christine Falls” by Benjamin Black (John Banville)  (2006) – 340 pages

Ireland probably has had more than its share of great fiction writers, and I have read many of them.  However, by the early 1990s, I had over-dosed on Irish fiction.  I read a few novels where it felt like I was supposed to be enchanted just because the characters were Irish and where it seemed the writers were unduly impressed with their own charm.  Then there were the clichés,  the wise old priest, the helpful feisty convent nuns, McGonagle’s Pub, the pretty lass, and so on.   The effect was similar to listening to the Irish Rovers’ “The Unicorn” two hundred times in a row. 

So I decided to stop reading Irish fiction.  For about ten years I did not read Irish novels. Sometimes it is just as much fun to decide what not to read as it is to decide what to read.  Then a few years ago, I decided this Irish prohibition was ridiculous, so I eased my way back into Irish fiction.  In the past few years I’ve discovered some excellent Irish writers including Sebastian Barry and Emma Donoghue.  But then there were setbacks like the short story collection “The Deportees” by Roddy Doyle which nearly put me off again.

I had read one of John Banville’s non-genre novels a long time ago, before the prohibition.  I believe it was “The Book of Evidence”.  For whatever reason, I did not care much for the novel at the time.  As he wins more and more awards, Banville is becoming a novelist it is hard to ignore.  My strategy was to approach him this time with a genre novel before attempting one of his “serious” novels.  This strategy appears to be working because I found “Christine Falls” very readable and entertaining as a crime thriller.    

“Christine Falls” by Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) is most definitely an Irish novel.  It takes place in Dublin in the 1950s, the Church is a major player, and the pub is still McGonagles.  The local convent might be running a black market in babies.  There is a pretty young woman called Phoebe, fortunately never called a ‘pretty lass’.  “Christine Falls” is a murder mystery, a crime thriller starring Quirke Griifin who is a middle-aged heavy drinking pathologist.  It is genre fiction, and a lot of the Irish stereotypes are there,   These stereotypes put me off at first, but I got so involved in the story that they were not a problem by the end. 

“Christine Falls” was a very entertaining read as genre fiction and will cause no impediment to my continued reading of Irish fiction.  Any suggestions on what non-genre John Banville novel I should read?

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kimbofo on March 6, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    Have you read ‘The Sea’? I read it quite awhile ago now thinking it would be pretentious drivel, but it’s surprisingly easy to read and quite thought-provoking about memory and growing old.

    http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2006/07/the_sea_by_john.html

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  2. Hi Kimbofo,
    The title “The Sea” for a novel kind of puts me off, because its so non-specific and general. Since “The Sea” won the Booker and according to your review sounds interesting, that might be my next Banville. He does seem to be somewhat a difficult writer, but you seemed to value the book.

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    • Posted by kimbofo on March 6, 2011 at 4:35 PM

      He was my favourite writer in my 20s. I read all his stuff and remember loving The Book of Evidence (which I’ve recently bought again for a possible re-read), because it was so dark and different compared to the typical genre novels I was more familiar with at the time. But then I discovered other authors and he tended to fall by the wayside. Then so much time passed I was too scared to read his new book because I was frightened it would dash my very high opinion of him. But The Sea was such a terrific read, I don’t know why I was worried.

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  3. Tony,

    I started my Banville with Christine Falls. The genre is not exactly my thing. I thought it was a little weak as a mystery, but the writing was excellent. I decided The Sea would be my next Banville. I have not gotten to it yet. Given Kim’s enthusiastic support, I will renew my resolve to give it a go, eventually. (I am still trying to trim the TBR by reading books I already have on hand….)

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  4. Hi Kerry,
    I don’t read much genre fiction either; about the only genre writer I read regularly is Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, because her writing seems to go beyond genre. I think with a difficult writer like Banville genre might be a way in.
    I’ll be watching those early 2011 TOB results.

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  5. Actually the title confused me too. Thank you for the review!
    Also, I invite you to come over to BookReviews at BookRack and consider joining us 🙂

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