Book #100: Shroud

Man.

Book 100. It’s taken over 2 years to get here. Remember when I started this and I thought I could read 100 books a year? Boy, was I beautiful, optimistic idiot.

Even though I’ve been an English teacher for a year and read tons of books and written lots of things, I’m still not sure how commas work when you’re using multiple adjectives to describe a noun. I feel like I did it wrong, but I typed it several ways and none of them looked quite right. Grammar is prescriptive anyway, right?

My project for the next 100 books should be to pay attention and see if I can figure out how to do it correctly.

Yes, I am talking about all this to put off having to write about this book. My 100th book was pretty underwhelming.

I know John Banville by reputation, so I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into with Shroud. I thought it’d be some plot but with lots of philosophical musings and questions to ponder. I was right. But I thought I would really like it. I was wrong.

Shroud is told through the eyes of a presumably untrustworthy narrator, Axel Vander. Vander is a renowned academic visiting Turin for one last conference, at the end of his life. There he meets a girl who has discovered his secret, and he must figure out how to deal with someone knowing his deepest secret.

Axel Vander is probably a PRIME example of an unreliable narrator. He comes out and admits (in the narrative) that his entire life has been a lie. He hasn’t read any of the books he wrote his famous, praised articles on and he isn’t who he says he is at all. Lying, he says, has become natural to him. How, then, are we supposed to believe anything that he tells us in the book?

I think Shroud would have been interesting if it stayed with this thread and let that carry the plot. Instead, it didn’t, really, I don’t think. To be honest, I wasn’t terribly interested in it, so I didn’t read as closely as I should have. I wanted to figure out this Big Secret that Cass Cleave, the young woman in the position to out Vander’s secret, was sitting on. Vander himself alluded to it several times throughout the book, and they even talked about it. I don’t want to spoil it, but the “Big Secret” was mentioned casually a couple times before Vander finally gives in and tells Cass the whole story.

When I read it, I kind of had a moment where I was thinking, “…what? That’s it?” It was very underwhelming. What kept me reading was the thought that maybe there was something even bigger coming. the REAL reason. But there wasn’t. The book just kind of fell flat for me as a whole.

Of course, maybe, since who knows if we can trust Vander, none of the events he described ever actually happened. I’m not sure if that would be better, though. That would come dangerously close to the “it was allllll just a dream” trope that’s so annoying.

Rating: **

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