I left the office Friday afternoon forgetting to take Wolf Hall with me. I didn't miss it until that evening when I sat down to read. Do you know that sinking feeling of wanting to get back into a delicious book and being thwarted? Of course you do, I need not have asked. I was squarely faced with a dilemma. Do I drive back to the darkened and deserted office at that time of night to retrieve it, or take something else off the shelf? I turned my attention to the new stack of books recently purchased at The Big Book Sale and my hand lighted on Shroud by John Banville. Only a little over 250 pages, I assumed it would be an easy read for the weekend. After 50 pages I realized it was not a novel I could readily settle into for the night; I had no desire to spend that particular evening with Axel Vander, the narrator. After the day I had the thought of strapping him on was just too much. Banville writes so beautifully I will return to it; but, I do not anticipate it will be a pleasant reunion.
"I would lie to her, of course; mendacity is second, no, is first nature to me. All my life I have lied. I lied to escape, I lied to be loved, I lied for placement and power; I lied to lie. It was a way of living; lies are life's almost-anagram." Dissect Axel Vander's person hood and that is what you would find at his core.
Old Axel hit upon one of my raw nerves; I am already not liking him very much - or trusting him very much. Lying is useful to cover bad behavior, obtain something not deserved, or avoid punishment (usually justified). "I need that good grade," "I don't want to go to jail," "I want that job," or the ever popular, "My wife would leave me." Right, right. You're saying we all tell a lie now and then. Yes, certainly not every baby is beautiful and not every hair-style becoming. So perhaps you weren't exactly campus queen (if that sort of thing is important to you) but you did run, and you did come in second - so it's almost true. No, no, no. We are not talking about those kinds of - well - let's call them embellishments of the truth. And telling the Nazi SS, straight-faced, that there is no one hiding in the attic is a lie I would have proudly told (assuming the requisite courage). The lies that deceive the trustful soul - those are the lies I'm talking about, the lies that wound.
Some people find themselves wading through lies every day - trying to sift through facts in the hopeful expectation that truth will pile up in a little heap and untruth will be caught in the fine mesh. We are expected to hold the belief that when someone raises their hand and swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but...the oath in itself is the truth. But I've always wondered what good is there in an oath that spews from the lips of a skilled (or in Axel's case a proud) liar? It makes no sense.
Why should truth hold such currency with us? I would offer this: lies have the capacity to destroy lives, ruin careers, end marriages and stab trust in the heart. You only need to look at the headlines for affirmation. Whether it be politics or love or closing the deal, truth is the net below the trapeze. Liar and Cheat, I should hope, is an epitaph to be avoided. So I ask myself, why should I want to spend any more time with Axel Vander? I can't redeem him, and I do not wish to engage him in conversation. But I can pity him and re-affirm my belief that there is something satisfying in speaking truth. I can also take pleasure in the mouth-feel of Banville's prose. Even a cursory reading of Shroud reveals that saving grace in the book. Perhaps I've judged Axel too soon. After all, I've only just brushed shoulders with him. Nevertheless, "I lied to lie," echoes in my ear. The question I have for you, Axel, is this: "Are you lying when you say you lie? If lying is what you do, are you lying about that too?" What a pretty problem. Or more likely, not so pretty one. I guess I'll wait to find out; I'll try to keep a fair and enlightened mind. But between you and me, I'm inclined to believe Axel Vander is a complete and utter tool.