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In Banville’s The Book of Evidence, Freddie tells us that after he kills Josie he thinks: “I am not human”. How does Banville use the confessions of a murderer to explore what it is to be “human”?

In Banville’s The Book of Evidence, Freddie tells us that after he kills Josie he thinks: “I am not human”. How does Banville use the confessions of a murderer to explore what it is to be “human”?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jennifer Nyhan. Originally submitted for Irish Studies (EN354) at National University of Ireland Maynooth, with lecturer Chris Morash in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Jennifer Nyhan. Originally submitted for Irish Studies (EN354) at National University of Ireland Maynooth, with lecturer Chris Morash in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

 
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In Banville‟s
The Book of Evidence,
Freddie tells us that after he kills Josie he thinks: “I amnot human”. How does Banville use the confessi
ons of a murderer to explore what it is to be
“human”?
 
„Just as any of our children could have been Bridgie Gargan or Donal Dunne, so too some of our children could be Malcolm Mc Arthur‟(Mc Guirk, Tom. „Mc Arthur‟s Bizzare Courtroom Chat with Detectives‟)
 John Banville has achieved much acclaim throughout his career, as a writer who engageswith the concept
of humanity. He creates stories in which his „protagonists come tounderstand the limitations of the human imagination‟s engagement with the real world‟ andexplores the sense of alienation and nostalgia associated with „the modern condition‟(
Hand,Derek.
Contemporary Irish Writers
Exploring Fiction: John Banville.1). This can be seen inhis novel
The Book of Evidence
(1989) in which the protagonist, Freddie Montgomery,describes the events of his life which lead up to and follow his crime of the murder of aservant girl. This essay will assess the ways in which Banville engages with the concept of humanity in the text through an examination of the contemporary context of its productionand the gendered nature of the humanity which it depicts.In order to do this, a brief summary of the context of the text will be provided here. The textis that it is based on the events in Ireland of the summer of 1982 in which a nurse, BridgieGargan was murdered by Malcolm Mc Arthur as he attempted to steal her car. There was also
 
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evidence that McArthur committed the second murder of the farmer Donal Dunne, with
Dunne‟s own gun, but this c
rime was never brought to court. The case of Malcolm Mc Arthurwas made even more unusual in that he was found to have lied about his past, inventing ahistory of himself which allowed him to associate with the upper echelons of Irish society. Hewas portrayed in media coverage as an eccentric and unhinged character described by one journalist as attired in a
twill sports jacket and trousers. He contemplated us with a haughty
look. . . and (then) walked with elegant distain ‟ (Mc Guirk, Tom). Mc Arthur was
arrested inthe Dalkey apartment of the then Attorney General of Ireland, Patrick Connolly.This greatly embarrassed and raised questions about the associations of the government of thetime and of the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughy. It also prompted the now infamous phrase
coined by Haughy describing the events surrounding Mc Arthur‟s crimes as „grotesque,unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented‟. The circumstances surrounding these
events areboth strange and tragic in the loss of life which occurred as a result. Derek Hand considersthis situation and Mc Arthur as a character to be one which would attract a writer such as
Banville in that „Macarthur is a vision of a man out of place, an unlikely odd character 
wearing a bow-tie . . .an unlikely and impl
ausible character to meet in any situation‟
(Hand.132-133).This idea of a man who creates identities for himself in order to exist in society and the
„motiveless act‟ of the murder that he commits presents a crisis of identity and indeed of 
humanity which is examined closely in
The Book of Evidence
. The protagonist, FreddieMontgomery is depicted as an unreliable narrator, the story he tells could be the truth or a lie
 
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or a combination of both ; „True inspector? I said. All of it. None of it. Only the shame‟
(Banville, John.
The Book of Evidence
. 219)
. Through the novel‟s self 
-awareness, the readeris acutely conscious of the novel as a work of fiction. Therefore there is a sense of involvement afforded the reader by the narrative in that he or she is constantly choosing anddeciding what is believable and what is not. In this way, the novel can be said to be
 postmodern in that „the postmodern imagination is parodic rather than productive‟ (Hand
,Derek. 2).
The Book of Evidence
utilises the postmodern form of metanarritve as a means of presenting the story to its audience. Banville approaches the postmodern themes of a crisis of humanity and identity through the metanarrative form in this novel. In this way, he
endeavours „ to overcome the postmodern rift b
etween language and experience, fiction and
reality‟ (4).
 The novel repeatedly makes reference to this split in contemporary engagement with identityand the sense of immateriality experienced by the protagonist in the world in which he lives.In one part of the novel Freddie describes a powerful desire to achieve a sense of self:
„When everything was gone. . . what freedom there would be. . . the sense of at last
being grounded. Then finally I would be me, no longer that poor impersonation of myself that I had been doing all my life. I would be real. I would be, of all things,
human.‟ (Banville
.162)This desire appears in the novel to be unattainable, there is the sense that it is too late or
impossible for Freddie to ever be more than simply a character, „it dawns on Freddie that perhaps there never was a real him‟ (Hand. 141). Indeed the act of the
murder of the youngservant girl Josie, is shown to be the one moment when Freddie appears to truly assert

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