This felt like an Irish John Updike. Freddie Montgomery is arguably worse than Rabbit; but the time period is the same and the language use and description was similar. Also reminded me a bit of McEwan's despicable main character in Solar.
Unfortunately, it was a bit repetitive; I am starting to feel rather repetitive myself, ever since reading Didion my main complaint is that everything is repetitive. Is this an example of life imitating art or just that through art I have finally noticed the repetitiveness of everything?
Anyway, Banville has a few themes and he is not afraid to stroke them repetitively throughout. Most frequently, he addresses the criminal's wish for self-efficacy and fame (and the psychological desire for attention and notice that is rewarded upon arrest and imprisonment): "I confess I had hopelessly romantic expectations of how things would be in here. Somehow I pictured myself a sort of celebrity, kept apart from the other prisoners in a special wing, where I would receive parties of grave, important people and hold forth to them about the great issues of the day, impressing the men and charming the ladies." He is so relieved as to be almost glorious in his arrest: "Yes, to be found out, to be suddenly pounced upon, beaten, stripped, and set before the howling multitude, that was my deepest, most ardent desire." and then in the capture: "From now on I would be watched over, I would be tended and fed and listened to, like a big, dangerous babe."
He also loves to discuss the lack of intention in our actions. Freddie is convinced that he set out without purpose and that simple random coincidences led to his criminal behavior. This is, of course, absurdly ridiculous and yet 100% true. Always, in life, we can stop our actions or change course. However, most frequently it is easier to succumb to inertia and just follow along paths which previous actions have blazed. I really liked some of Banville's turn of phrase on this point: "[the question] assumes that actions are determined by volition, deliberate thought, a careful weighing-up of facts, all that puppet-show twitching which passes for consciousness. I was living like that because I was living like that, there is no other answer. When I look back, no matter how hard I try I can see no clear break between one phase and another." Later he again argues, "There is no moment in this process of which I can confidently say, there, that is when I decided she should die. Decided? I do not think it was a matter of deciding. I do not think it was a matter of thinking, even."
A third theme is the inhumanity of humans. Like all nasty (self serving, self aware, and malicious) characters, Freddie is able to analyze his own actions and frequently describes himself as something less than human. He pardons himself with the excuse that he is really two beasts, the one under control and then the other under the surface. Freddie declares: "To do the worst thing, the very worst thing, that's the way to be free. I would never again need to pretend to myself to be what I was not."
He is also: "Never wholly anywhere, never with anyone, either, that was me, always. Even as a child I seemed to myself a traveller who had been delayed in the middle of an urgent journey. Life was an unconscionable wait, walking up and down the platform, watching for the train." I love this description because it captures one of my favorite life issues (gotta figure out how to live in the moment to be happy), while simultaneously giving the example of this extremely dissatisfied being who cannot ever live in the moment.
One complaint I have is that the narrator was not completely honest. He describes himself in the opening paragraph (which is well crafted and definitely grabs the reader's attention) as a cannibal: "the girl-eater, svelte and dangerous, padding to and fro in my cage". I was actually (surprisingly) sort of disappointed when it turned out that he just walked away from Josie while she was still alive. Certainly, leaving her to die on her own is horrid; but I read the whole book under the impression that Freddie would really lose it in the end and anticipated a gory scene that just didn't occur.
Overall it was an interesting read with some worthwhile moments.