Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Baxter on Black and Banville

The author of "A Feast of Love" on the novelist who is both the literary eminence John Banville and the would-be thriller purveyor Benjamin Black, who each have new books out.

A reading of the two books, the Banville novel and the Black novel, might inspire in some readers a consideration of the way that plot on the one hand and eloquence on the other have taken their leave of each other and have set up separate realms, if that is indeed what has happened. But the real mystery at the center of these books has more to do with the question of how to freeze time so that it partakes of the eternal, which is Banville’s true subject, and with the problem of consequences of actions in the here and now, which is Black’s. Eloquence is not the point of [Black's] "Vengeance," though it contains passages of verbal legerdemain, and plot is almost irrelevant in [Banville's] "Ancient Light," although it contains a surprise ending.
A larger distinction can be inferred between literary novels that seek to "freeze time so that it partakes of the eternal" and entertainments, which exploit a sense of time rushing onward to generate excitement. While there could be cases in which the merely stiff or frozen is mistaken for the timeless, the association of the temporal and the contingent is pretty well locked in; a key issue for us OG liberal artists.

UPDATE: I think the distinction between stop-time novels that seek stasis and/or the eternal and "temporal" plotty ones is too suggestive to be reduced to an art vs. entertainment squabble. Slowing time down to an extreme close-up crawl or speeding it up to gets hearts racing aren't the only alternatives. Some of our favorite books, from "War and Peace" to "A Suitable Boy," somehow manage to evoke the exact, flowing, forward pace of life, without hype in either direction.