Friday, January 20, 2023

Snow: John Banville


This was the last book I read in 2022. My husband had been recommending it to me ever since he read it in 2020. Then I read a post at Reader in the Wilderness, which discussed The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black (a pseudonym used by John Banville) and we discussed Snow in the comments. I am very glad I finally read it. 

The setting is Ireland in 1957. The Catholic Church is powerful in Ireland at that time. Detective Inspector St. John Strafford has been sent to County Wexford to investigate the death of a priest, found dead in the home of a well-known Protestant family. DI Strafford is also Protestant, an unusual occurrence in the Garda. He finds himself in an uncomfortable position, isolated in the small community by the accumulating snow and getting little cooperation from the family or the townspeople. 

My Thoughts:

I liked this much more than I expected. There is the setting and the atmosphere. The snow. A manor house, Ballyglass, belonging to the aristocratic Colonel Geoffrey Osborne. DI Strafford grew up in a similar manor house in another part of Ireland, which stirs up memories.

This is a mystery, but certainly not a standard mystery, which made it all the more appealing to me. The detective is not very experienced at investigating a homicide, but he does his best. The characters are colorful and interesting. Strafford feels like they are performing for him, playing the roles assigned to them, and that he is a part of the play. The ending is not fully resolved, but the reader is not left hanging.

The story was  beautifully written and I learned much that I did not know about Ireland at that time. I would have picked Snow as a favorite for the year, except that there was a longish section towards the end that could have been much less graphic and still gotten the point across. Unfortunately, it would be a spoiler to go into more detail on that. 

Does anyone have recommendations for John Banville books that you have enjoyed? 


Publisher:   Hanover Square Press, 2020
Length:       298 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Ireland
Genre:        Mystery, Police Procedural
Source:       My husband gave me his copy in 2020.


bookertalk said...

I enjoyed this too because of the atmosphere he creates. It's the first time I've ready any of his crime fiction though I've read two of his "literary novels" and enjoyed both. If you like his writing and you like crime, check out the novels he writes under the pen name of Benjamin Black

TracyK said...

BookerTalk, I did read the first book Banville wrote as Benjamin Black, and liked it well enough to buy the second, but I have let it sit a while. A long while, evidently, since it seems I read the first one back in 2010. I will get back to that series, a coworker I gave the first one to (before retiring) told me she continued reading the series and loved it.

I do hope to try something else he wrote that is not a mystery someday.

Cath said...

I wish I was more interested in reading about Ireland than I am. I'm not sure why Ireland doesn't interest me, just one of those things I suppose but this sounds interesting and different so I'll keep an eye out in the library. I did read a couple of crime books set in Ireland in 2021, The Keeper by Graham Norton and The Searcher by Tana French, both good but neither of them cheerful reads!

TracyK said...

This one is definitely not cheerful either, Cath. I have The Keeper on my wish list and I got The Searcher at the book sale in 2022, so I will be reading both someday. I have read a lot of Tana French's books and none of them are happy books. I did like reading about Ireland in the late 1950s though. That was new for me.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this, Tracy. Banville, I've found, is one of those authors whose work people either really like...or don't. It's good to hear you liked it better than you thought you would. I think that's always a nice surprise, isn't it?

TracyK said...

It was a nice surprise, Margot. When I have more time, I need to do some research into his non-mystery novels.

FictionFan said...

I loved The Blue Guitar a few years back. Not one of his crime novels, but the writing is gorgeous and there's a lot of humour in it, as well as some great characterisation. I haven't got on so well with his crime writing because he does rather seem to be obsessed by the Catholic church - its abuses seem to be the foundation of nearly all of his plots!

TracyK said...

FictionFan, very interesting about Banville's obsession with the Catholic Church. That is certainly true about Snow, but it did not bother me because I know so little about Ireland so it is new to me.

Thanks for the suggestion of The Blue Guitar. That sounds like a perfect place to start.