John Banville

Scoundrel Manages to Keep his Secrets

Wainewright The Poisoner

By

Faber & Faber 320pp £20 order from our bookshop

God help the hangers-on, the small fry who desperately dart and flash amidst the barracudas and the killer whales. Life is hard at that level, even if you look like a big fish to the crustaceans on the seabed, or, at times, to yourself. It is almost possible to pity poor Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, painter and poetaster, who swam among the greatest of his day and ended up transported for life to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. The charge against him was forgery, but that was probably the least of his crimes. He had also conspired to defraud half a dozen insurance companies, and may well have poisoned not only the sister-in-law who was his henchwoman in the insurance seam, but her mother, too, as well as his own uncle, a man who in his lifetime had shown the ungrateful nephew nothing but kindness.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter