CHRISTINE FALLS

Benjamin Black

The hero of Christine Falls, Quirke, is a surly pathologist living in 1950s Dublin. One night, after having a few drinks at a party, he returns to the morgue to find his brother-in-law tampering with the records on a young woman’s corpse. The next morning, when his hangover has worn off, Quirke reluctantly begins looking into the woman’s history. He discovers a plot that spans two continents, implicates the Catholic Church, and may just involve members of his own family. He is warned–first subtly, then with violence–to lay off, but Quirke is a stubborn man. The first novel in the Quirke series brings all the vividness and psychological insight of John Banville’s writing to the dark,

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The hero of Christine Falls, Quirke, is a surly pathologist living in 1950s Dublin. One night, after having a few drinks at a party, he returns to the morgue to find his brother-in-law tampering with the records on a young woman’s corpse. The next morning, when his hangover has worn off, Quirke reluctantly begins looking into the woman’s history. He discovers a plot that spans two continents, implicates the Catholic Church, and may just involve members of his own family. He is warned–first subtly, then with violence–to lay off, but Quirke is a stubborn man. The first novel in the Quirke series brings all the vividness and psychological insight of John Banville’s writing to the dark, menacing atmosphere of a first-class thriller.

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  • Picador
  • Paperback
  • January 2008
  • 384 Pages
  • 9780312426323

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About Benjamin Black

Benjamin Black is the pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His novels have won numerous awards, most recently the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. He lives in Dublin.

Praise

“A page-turner told in prose so beautiful you’ll want to read some passages repeatedly. Intricately plotted, beautifully written.”
The Boston Globe

“Measured, taut, and transfixing . . . Benjamin Black’s plotting is methodical, detailed, and always gripping. You can smell the smoke in Quirke’s favorite pub and touch the cool walls in a Boston convent he later visits.”—USA Today

“Swirling, elegant noir . . . Crossover fiction of a very high order . . . Rolls forward with haunting, sultry exoticism . . . toward the best kind of denouement under these circumstances: a half inconclusive one.”—The New York Times

“A dark, ambitious crime novel . . . It’s going to make more than a few readers flip the book over to look at the author photo to make sure Banville’s really pulling the strings.”—Newsday

Discussion Questions

“In secret,” the author writes, “Quirke prized his loneliness as a mark of some distinction.” (pg. 12). What does Quirke’s loneliness do for him? How does it make possible what he ultimately accomplishes in the story? Is Quirke’s isolation part of what allows him to see the truth about the conspiracy around him?

What does Crawford mean when he says to Quirke that America is “the New World,” that, “This is the place. God’s country.” How are Ireland and America treated differently in the novel? How do these portrayals relate to the current America and Ireland?

Do the revelations about Quirke, Phoebe, and what he knew about their relationship change your perception of how he treated her earlier in the novel? Why do you think Quirke kept the secret so long of who her parents were? Was it the right decision?

Early in the novel, Quirke is thinking about his late wife Delia: “Perhaps he had cared for her more than he knew, had cared for what she was, that is, and not just what she had been to him.” How do these two different types of caring come into play for other characters in the novel? Do you think they are always distinct from each other? Are some people capable only of one or the other?

What do you think of the overall portrait of the Catholic Church that emerges from the novel? Did you find the conspiracy plausible? Did you feel sympathy for the nuns, the Staffords, and other less powerful figures who were complicit in it?

Consider the difference between Quirke’s early childhood, first in a brutal orphanage and then in an adoptive home, and Mal’s, as the natural-born son of a wealthy father who loved him less than his brother. How do you think their respective childhoods can be connected to the decisions they make in their relationships in this story?

What role does social class play in the novel?

Why do you think Quirke sleeps with Rose? Is she right when she tells him, “You’re more like me than your precious Sarah. A cold heart and a hot soul…”?

What do you think drew Quirke and Sarah together initially? Do you think they were better off for having stayed apart throughout the years, despite an acknowledged love for each other?

Quirke realizes midway through the novel that as “Mr. Punch and fat Judy” were beating him, the prospect of his own death was insignificant, that “he had thought he was going to die and was surprised at how little he feared the prospect.” Is this is a sign of bravery in Quirke, or despair, or both? Do you think his own life matters more or less to him by the end of the novel?

At the end of chapter 28 a nun says to Quirke, “From the little I’ve seen of you, you’re a good man, if only you knew it.” Do you agree with her assessment? What does she mean by, “if only you knew it.” Would knowing it change his behavior?

What do you imagine happening after the end of the book? How will Quirke’s relationship to his family evolve, including to Sarah and Phoebe? Have the events in this story made him a happier man, a better man? Or have they changed him for the worse?