Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 8, 2009

Shroud, by John Banville

shroudI don’t know what to make of this book.  It has one of the most unpleasant narrators I’ve ever come across, and his preoccupations are mostly nauseating.  Added to that, I can’t work out the significance of the title and its allusion to the Shroud of Turin, and I’m still not clear about what actually happened at the end.

‘Alex Vander’ seems to be an academic who assumed the identity of the real Vander just after Kristallnacht when he returned home to find his parents gone and his own life at risk.  Is this true? Is it just one of the lies he tells to cover up his anti-Semitism? Or was his friend Vander the one who wrote the anti-Semitic articles?  I haven’t the faintest idea.

Vander returns to Turin because Cass Cleave, a young American with a mental illness called Mandelbaum’s Syndrome, has threatened to expose him.  Is she really mad? Is the secret to be exposed that the fake Vander has built his career on the dead Vander’s articles?  Or is it just ‘Vander’ trying to discredit what she says? Again, I haven’t the faintest idea.

It was hard to read, and even harder to interpret.  For more erudite reviews than mine, see the Guardian, the New York Times or the Village Voice.  But only if you really care, because the reviews are as difficult to comprehend as the book.

On the plus side, I learned some new vocab, as one does, from John Banville. Lucubrations means ‘Laborious study or meditation, or writing produced by laborious effort or study, especially pedantic or pretentious writing’.  This is a word which could come in handy for John Banville reviews…

This book is included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die which just goes to show that you shouldn’t take any notice of me!

Author: John Banville
Title: Shroud
Publisher: Picador 2003
ISBN: 9780330483148


  1. I read The Sea by Banville last year. I didn’t particularly enjoy it and I didn’t think I’d be reading much else by him. Including this one. Thanks for the heads up!


  2. Hello Michelle,
    I did like The Sea, (see my review but I didn’t find it so self-consciously wordy or bowed down by the weight of its theme. The Sea seemed to me to be an exploration of grief and the way it can overwhelm you, but Shroud – well, I’ve said it all above. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t like it.
    I have two other Banvilles on my TBR but I plan on reading a good many others before I get to them!


  3. […] in a trilogy comprising Eclipse (0n my TBR from way back) and Shroud which I read ages ago, but didn’t much like.  In the wake of The Sea (which I loved) and The Infinities which I found utterly charming, I had […]


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