Secker & Warburg, $32.95 hb
People who have read John Banville’s Book of Evidence tend to pale and take on a manic look when they’re told that there is a new Banville out. When they learn that it’s linked with that earlier book, almost a sequel, their ears pinken, their lips tremble, and, most disturbingly, their fingers begin to twitch. At this stage, the holder of an advance proof backs away, calmly, as smoothly as possible, never turning until the door is reached. Then she runs, and they’re in hot pursuit.
Only a writer bold and clever as Banville can have this effect. It’s not that he writes thrillers or titillators, but he writes unexpectedly, with an almost grim passion for that most alluring of literary themes, ordinary nastiness. As in The Book of Evidence, he takes an ordinary life and delicately prods its rottenness. The deliciously disturbing thing is that he doesn’t appear to have to prod too hard to inspire a shiver that tickles and stings.