Friday, November 16, 2007

Athena, by John Banville

It’s not quite “The Sea,” but Banville really is a writer closer to Nabakov and Joyce than most of his contemporaries. It’s easy to see in this novel of obsession, which follows a former felon turned art historian asked to verify the authenticity of a stack of suspicious paintings. Things get complicated, and the narrator falls deep under the spell of a mysterious woman. The language is erotic and sensual even outside of the sex scenes. Various interludes, in the form of brief reviews of art written by the narrator, offset the action, provide pacing, and eventually weave themselves into the plot. Stylistically, “Athena” is masterful, and the detective-novel genre gets a good workout in the hands of a writer able to make every line beautiful, and every word count.

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