The library is a long narrow room. Its dusty book-lined walls give way at the south end with a hint of gaiety to the white french windows that look across the lawn into the wood. Blackbirds hunted outside on the grass that day, thrushes too, frenetic little creatures with battle cries no bigger than themselves. There was a smell of lupins and, faintly, the sea. The windowpanes were smashed, withered leaves littered the carpet. The shards of shattered glass retained wedges of a stylised blue sky. The chairs crouched in menacing immobility. All these things, pretending to be dead. From the landing I looked down over the lake and the fields to the distant sea. How blue the water was, how yellow was the sun. A butterfly flickered across the garden. I strained to catch the tiny clatter such awkward wings should make. My fists were wet with tears. I was not weeping for those who were gone. People are easy to replace, thanks to their infamous proclivity. I wept for what was there and yet not there. For Birchwood.
We imagine that we remember things as they were, while in fact all we carry into the future are fragments which reconstruct a wholly illusory past.
– John Banville, Birchwood, p 4.
This beautiful, tough, mysterious, skeptical, remote but emotion-riddled book! What a contrast with Ian McEwan’s cynical and annoying Solar, which I’ll post on soon. Birchwood was published in 1973; I also have Banville’s newest, The Infinities, on the library shelf.