Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I had to look it up to be sure: "An elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead." Why did Benjamin Black use that in the title of his latest novel Elegy for April when the premise of the book is the search for a missing girl? As I think most readers do when reading a mystery, I was trying to anticipate the outcome as I was reading. Would the author intentionally give away the ending in the title? or was he trying to mislead? or something else?

To review: Benjamin Black is the pen name of John Banville (author of The Sea). As Black, this is his third novel about Quirke (no first name), a Dublin pathologist whose curiosity repeatedly places him in harm's way. You can review the two previous books in our blogs What's in a Name? and Nom de Plume. This time his daughter Phoebe comes to him with concern for her missing friend April who hasn't been seen by any of her friends or colleagues (she's a doctor) for a week. Although April is from a prominent local family, their pride and ambition long ago caused them to abandon their ties to April for her unconventional life style.

We should all be so fortunate to have a friend like Phoebe. She refuses to give up the search for her friend even in the face of threats to her own safety. As with any good mystery, there are other sub-plots including a love interest for Quirke and racial prejudice (April has a Nigerian friend/boyfriend). There are repeated references to an episode in Irish history, the Easter Rising, about which it might have been helpful to be better informed but I don't think my ignorance was a serious handicap. The convoluted family history of Quirke and his daughter from the previous books is recapped and is the occasion now of a humorous misunderstanding.

The final chapters bring everything to a head with a rapidity and plot twists that required careful reading and re-reading on my part to grasp all of the details. Even as Benjamin Black, Banville cannot escape his talent for description, particularly of Dublin, its climate, its culture and its inhabitants. I could just feel the fog... but then again we have a lot of that in San Francisco, too.

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