Such is Banville’s gift for char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion that we feel we’ve come to know not just Is­abel but her ad­ver­saries, too

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

eman­ci­pa­tion — my suf­frage, if you like”, and the reader spends the rest of the novel won­der­ing quite how she’s go­ing to ac­com­plish that free­dom.

In the mean­time, both Is­abel and the reader learn more of the lies and treach­ery per­pe­trated by Gil­bert Os­mond and Ser­ena Merle, so that when she fi­nally con­fronts them — firstly her hus­band in Florence and then both of them in Rome — the come­up­pance she de­liv­ers is all the more ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

And such is Banville’s gift for char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion that we feel we’ve come to know not just Is­abel but her ad­ver­saries, too, though other char­ac­ters are also vividly imag­ined: notably Is­abel’s forth­right jour­nal­ist friend Hen­ri­etta Stack­pole; Os­mond’s un­like­able sis­ter, the haughty count­ess Amy, whose con­fid­ing to Is­abel of her brother’s mis­deeds has oc­ca­sioned the whole cri­sis; and Os­mond’s bru­talised 20-year-old daugh­ter Pansy, the true cir­cum­stances of whose birth are only re­vealed to Is­abel late in the book.

Is­abel her­self, though, proves to be ul­ti­mately un­know­able and the very end­ing, like that of the James orig­i­nal, is am­bigu­ous, if not here in terms of plot res­o­lu­tion then in terms of who ex­actly Is­abel re­ally is and quite what des­tiny she wishes to pur­sue.

Per­haps that’s Banville’s fi­nal homage to the mas­ter, about whom he has pre­vi­ously said: “Peo­ple say I’ve been in­flu­enced by Beckett or Nabokov, but it’s al­ways been Henry James”.

He has cer­tainly done him proud in this en­thralling book.

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