I had just finished an excellent book by Australian novelist Peter Temple, so Benjamin Black (John Banville) would seem the perfect segue, from one angst-riddled author to another. I am not a great fan of short stories but aware that The Lemur is more the length of a novella.
In The Lemur, a reluctant protagonist is drawn into a confrontation with his life choices and the power of wealth in molding what we become, a buffer from reality that accompanies money and position in society. Sitting in his glass-tower office, charged with the authorized biography of his father-in-law, Big Bill Mulholland, former journalist John Glass is stifled by the very openness of his environs, the unreality of working among the clouds.
Speaking of glass houses, Johnís could not be more symbolic, and by extension, the lives of his wife, his stepson, and his powerful communications magnate/ex-CIA agent father-in-law.
A brooding Irishman, Glass is disaffected after years of marriage to Louise, still a beauty who at first distracted him but now has lost her former luster in his eyes, as he settles into a world of privilege that has lost its charm. Louiseís snide son does little to enhance the union, unappealing and spoiled. Then there is Big Bill, larger-than-life, a man with no tolerance for short-sightedness.
Thinking to expand his intimate knowledge of Billís life, Glass interviews a researcher whom he aptly nicknames The Lemur. But when the researcher is murdered, his last call to Glass with demands of partnership in the biographical enterprise, Glass is driven to uncover what scandal this young man had unearthed. With only fragments of information, John is unable to piece together a cohesive theme, but assumes - rightly so - that the answers lie no farther than his own family.
None of these characters are likeable, not even Glass, who has withdrawn from the world in his ivory tower, his current lifestyle a shield from the ugly realities faced by common people. He loathes this way of life yet is easily seduced by it, losing his edge over the years. There is a strange lack of energy to this story and these people, almost as though the characters cannot break from their ennui and save themselves.
Certainly Glass has been infected by this inability to act as well, his only impulse of rebellion a tentative affair that is winding down for lack of commitment, the family moving back and forth between Manhattan and the Hamptons. If the authorís intent is to point out class differences, the point is made.
There are glimpses of Banvilleís genius, lyrical descriptions of people and places. But for me, this novel never quite reaches its potential. (The Lemur was originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine.)