John Banville: Commentary


Seamus Deane
Rüdiger Imhof
Joseph McMinn
Patricia Craig
Colm Tóibín
Robert Tracy
Maggie Gee
Frank Kermode
William Trevor
Chris Petit
Carlo Gébler
Hugh Haughton
Jonathan Yardley
James Wood
Christopher Taylor
Terry Eagleton
Conor McCarthy
John Kenny
Bernard O’Donoghue
Brendan MacNamee
Alan O’Riordan
Joanne Watkiss
Laura Miller
Sara Keating
Susan Mansfield
Alison Flood
John Boyne
Declan Burke
Philip Davison
Arminta Wallace
Karl Miller
Christopher Benfey

Seamus Deane, ‘“Be Assured I am Inventing”: The Fiction of John Banville’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time [Cahiers Irlandaises, 4-5] (l’Université de Lille 1976), p.329[-38]: Deane writes that Banville’s work up to 1975 was ‘a prolegomena to fiction rather than a fiction itself.’ (p.332.) ‘This is a strange tradition to which John Banville belongs, for it is not a political literature by any means, yet it is not at all a literature without politics - that the world is subject to improvement if not to change or transformation. For them all, it is a place of proverbial and archetypal corruption. One could, I believed, argue that the degree of introversion in the major Irish fictions of this century is in exact relation to the degree of political disillusion.’ (Ibid., [p.334].)

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Seamus Deane, ‘“Be Assured I am Inventing”: The Fiction of John Banville’ (1976) - cont.: Deane calls Banville ‘a littèrateur who has a horror of producing literature’; cites influence and makes comparison with Butor, Robbe-Grillet, Borges, Henry Green, and John Barth; ‘not a novelist tout court, a writer working in a medium by testing its possibilities to the point of exhaustion’; ‘conceives of the imagination as a faculty which allows the creation of complete purposeless liberty’; ‘a mode of perception that has temperature rather than content’; cites the phrase ‘Memnosyne, that lying whore’ and also the allusion to that ‘four letter word’ [i.e., flux] that interested Heraclitus, in “Long Lankin”; introversion of modern Irish fiction corresponds to exact ratio of political disillusion [see under Deane, infra]; calls Birchwood, a phantasmagoria with the presence of reality and a ‘complicated metaphor for world as book and author as God [...] the author who is a God within his world of book, enjoys complete liberty, especially liberty with time’ [p.337; quotes Gabriel, Birchwood, p.171, as infra].

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Seamus Deane, Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1986), p. 224: ‘[T]here is an insistence on us remembering that a novel is a series of literary conventions […]. Banville uses literary echoes as a reminder that the essential activity is the act of writing itself and that the essential futility is manifest in the gap between a discreet, discontinuous experience and the formed plots and arranged motifs which are a necessary feature of literature.’ (Quoted in Catherine Canniffe, UUC MA Diss, 1999.) Note: Deane somewhere calls Freddie Montgomery [of Book of Evidence] ’morally delinquent, neuraesthenically sensitive, astray in the hall of mirrors he calls his consciousness, a connoisseur of his own emotions and a despoiler of those of others’ (quoted in McMinn, Supreme Fictions, 1999, p.102.)

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Rüdiger Imhof, ’John Banville’s Supreme Fiction’, in Irish University Review, 11, 1 (1981): ’Birchwood is a tale of mystery, reminiscent of the romantic Poe story, because of its exploiting romantic modes and their latter-day successors - the question romance, the gothic novel, the detective story as a development of the rationalistic gothic - as well as stylised features pertaining to these fictional types.’ (p.62.)

Rüdiger Imhof, John Banville: A Critical Introduction (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1989): ’Formalism leads inevitably to the inward obsession with angst, while at the same time it helps to renew art and expand its frontiers.’ (p.14.) [On Birchwood:] ’Gabriel is the first of Banville’s characters to occupy himself with a search for sense, for the whatness of things.’ (p.15.)

Rüdiger Imhof, ed., Contemporary Irish Novelists (Tübingen: Gunther Narr 1990): ‘The various magicians, trapeze artists, saltimbanques, and the like - more flambouyant cousins of the mathematicians, astronomers, scholars, and writers who ghost through his works from Long Lankin to Mefisto are at once real symbols and self-deflating symbols of this systematic displacement, parodic and wistful glimpses at once of a lost magic, wholeness and radiance which may never have been more than a fiction anyway; just as the various pairs of twins, incestuous siblings, and homosexual lovers are likewise markers, at once serious and playful, of a pivotal concern with the question of self-identity and self-difference.’ (p.221-22; quoted in Sherry Walsh, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

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Joseph McMinn, John Banville: A Critical Study (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1991): ‘With a writer like Banville, so receptive to the rhythms of European literature, and so able to select the most suitable literary company for he purposes of his own aesthetic, we would do well to recall some of the major trends of modern literary culture. The innovator in Banville turns out to be a deceptive traditionalist. His fiction, at once tragic and playful, is largely about the recreation of fictions. In this sense, we are faced with a writer who keeps returning to literature itself, a history of the imaginative life, for inspiration. / Banville makes us work for our pleasure. A writer who is so sensitive to the work of other writers keeps us on our toes, but we should remember always that the point of such a deeply referential fiction is to enrich the imaginative range of the work [...] rather than a scholarly game. This fiction is rich with ideas about illusion and perception, yet the irony of any uncritical fascination with the purely intellectual dimension of the writing is that it may very likely lose sight of the humanistic idea at the heart of Banville’s fiction.’ (p.1-2.) ‘The rhetorical authority and stylistic grace of Banville’s fiction comes from [a] balanced tension between a classical design, rich and evocative, and a lonesome elegiac voice. All his narrators look back to their origins and their immediate past for some clue to their sense of tragic and farcical confusion. The underlying and enabling myth is, of course, one of lost innocence.’ [...; cont.]

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Joseph McMinn (John Banville, 1991) - cont.: ‘That is why most of the novels end with the seasonal hope of spring. / Banville’s radical fiction, it turns out, can be quite old-fashioned, or classical, in its affections. But it is too honest simply to romanticise forms of innocence, knowing that the [5] irrationality and violence of human existence precludes any easy comfort. Above all else, childhood remains an obsessive image, a haunting momory for all Banville’s protagonists, who try to imagine themselves out of their chaos. [...] God may have abandoned the wrold, but Banvillle’s characters, through intense imaginative effort, can still catch glimpses of an earthly Eden.’ (p.5-6.) ‘The Irish historical experience includes the near loss of one language and the modern adaptation to another, recurrent political and sectarian violence, an ambiguous sense of cultural loyalty and identity, and an odd, exiled relation with the rest of Europe: such features are classic symptoms of what we may abstractedly call “modern alienation”. A history of political abnormality, linguistic confusion and cultural isolation provides a happy hunting-ground for the post-modernist writer, expecially for one like Banville, with such an intelligent sense of humour.’ (p.7.) [Cont.]

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Joseph McMinn (John Banville, 1991) - cont. [on Birchwood]: ‘His [the narrator Godkin’s] story is an imaginative version of the facts, measured and arranged according to the dictates of perception and desire.’ (p.30.) ‘Godkin reinvents the past in such a way as to satisfy his need for emotional and imaginative consolation without denying the horrors of existence.’ (p.33.) ‘Banville seems to have chosen this well-known genre [i.e., “big house” and its conventions for their imaginative, metaphorical possibilities, their instant associations with decay, political crisis and, significantly, the image of a class of people increasingly out of touch with reality.’ (Idem.) ‘This is a novel that thrives on its own contradictions.’ (p.43.) Concludes that in Birchwood Banville ‘achieves an imaginative form perfectly suited to its theme’. (Variously quoted in Sherry Walsh and Ryan Horner, UG Essays, UUC 2003.) [On The Book of Evidence]: ‘His [Freddie’s] irrationality is mediated through the imagery of art in a way that suggests a disturbing link between culture and perception. He can see Anna Behrens in terms of the Dutch masters, and his mother as one of “Lautrec’s ruined Doxies” but he cannot adequately picture Josie Bell’s world’. (p. 122; quoted Catherine Canniffe, UUC MA Diss, 1999.)

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Joseph McMinn, The Supreme Fictions of John Banville (Manchester UP 1999), on Copernicus:‘A truly ambitious novel, it extends our appreciation of the role and power of fiction in humanity’s attempt to understand its place in the order of nature. It is not just a literary version of a scientific career: it is also an assertion of the primacy of imagination in all forms of thought and narrative.’ (p.47.)‘It is a story about terrible loneliness of such intellectual obsession and frigidity, but one which also strives for consolatory redemptive knowledge.’ (p.48.) McMinn:‘Copernicus soon senses that the language of astronomy, whether words or mathematical symbols, indeed any language, cannot do justice to his perception.’ (q.p.). (All the foregoing quoted in Nataliya Stokes, “The Concept of Harmony in Selected Works of John Banville”, UG Diss, UUC 2005.)

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Joseph McMinn, ‘Naming the World: Language and Experience in John Banville’s Fiction’, review, Irish Studies Review , 23, 2, 1993), pp.183-86, quotes the lines from Wallace Stevens’s “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction”, used as an epigraph to Copernicus, viz.,‘You must become an ignorant man again / And see the sun again with an ignorant eye / And see it clearly in the idea of it’ - and remarks:‘The opening section of the poem [i.e., “Notes ..”], from which the epigraph is taken, is about the need to trust imagination to do the work of naming the world, and not allow perception to be deadened by the language of habit. The world comes first, as does the linden tree, what it is called remains of secondary and ambivalent value. Only by respecting and remembering this distinction will the burden of language become a revitalised means of knowledge.’ (q.p.; quoted in Nataliya Stokes, “The Concept of Harmony in Selected Works of John Banville”, UG Diss, UUC 2005.)

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Patricia Craig, ‘This is such stuff as dreams are made on’, reviewing Athena, in Spectator (18 Feb. 1995) [n.p.], cites interview with Fintan O’Toole in 1989: ‘I’ve always likened writing a novel to a very powerful dream that you know is going to haunt you for days. If you sit down at the breakfast table and start to try to explain the dream to someone, they yawn and look at you and they can’t understand what you’re on about’; he continues to the effect that if you imagine the author sitting down with such a dream for three years or so, refining and refining it into an elaborate work of fiction ‘then you’re close to the impulse of my novels’ [see longer version, infra].

Athena: Craig summarises Dublin-set plot about Morrow, a woman called A, and his controller Morden, as well as master-criminal Da, and Morrow’s old Aunt Corky; Craig remarks, ‘Banville’s well-known rage for order, in the face of endemic chaos and uncertainty, lends a peculiar tension to his novels; at the same time, they derive their density from some accompanying system or motif which is hitched to the narrative – be it astronomical, mythological, or whatever [... Athena is] part of an intricate unsettling fictional enterprise – strongly imagined and rigorously planned – in which all the characters are pushed to extremes, and a kind of mordant dislocation prevails.’

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Colm Tóibín, ‘On (Not) Saying What You Mean’ [Colm Tóibín reports from Dublin], in London Review of Books (30 Nov. 1995), pp.3-6: ‘[...] In the early Seventies, as the car-bombs went off in the North and the debate raged over Section 31, which banned Sinn Fein from the Irish airwaves, and the nature of Irish identity, for me and my associates the name John Banville began to have a strange, heroic power. His novel Birchwood, which appeared in 1973, remains the most extreme and perhaps the most persuasive work of Irish revisionism. In this book Irish history was a huge joke: the Famine and the war of independence were mixed with a circus and various Gothic horrors as parts of a sour dream, pieces of a narrative invented to amuse us. Banville’s earlier novel Nightspawn was set in Greece and his next, Doctor Copernicus, in Mitteleuropa. It would be hard, it seemed to me, to write a novel set in the past in Ireland without somehow taking Birchwood into account. It was the attitude that mattered most – the prose glistening with irony, the tone sophisticated and knowing. The idea of viewing Ireland as a joke and the outside world as somehow real was hugely liberating if you were a student in Dublin in the early Seventies in a world dominated by Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday, Daithi Ó Conall and Seán Mac Stíopháin.’ (Available at LRB online.)

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Robert Tracy, ‘The Broken Lights of Irish Myth’, reviewing The Broken Jug (Gallery 1994), in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1995), p.18, describes a play after Heinrich von Kleist’s Der Zebrochene Krug (1807), setting the events of Netherlands in 1700 in ‘Ballybog [...] in the West of Ireland in August, 1846’; further quotes: ‘if all men had green glasses they would have to conclude that the objects they perceived through them were green’; quotes, ‘... told old Ireland’s history, all in scenes, / See here, where there’s now nothing but a hole, / The Firbolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danaan / Were shown in mighty battle on the plain, / And there Cuchulain swung the hurley stick: / Those are his legs, that’s all that’s left of him. / There’s Brian Boru, at prayer at Clontarf; / You see him kneeling? - That’s his backside, see [...] / The walls of Limerick, look, the siege of Derry. / The glorious victory at the River Boyne - / Our country’s history broken up in bits!’

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Maggie Gee, reviewing The Untouchable, in Times Literary Supplement (9 May 1997), p.20, points out that in this roman à clef, Banville has revenged himself upon Graham Greene (who, as adjudicator to the Booker Prize, advanced his own candidate [Vincent McDonnell]), by making him a hated and hateful Quennel, author of ‘pretentiously papist’ novels living with his mistresses in the south of France and even frequenting child prostitutes; Gee criticises the ‘asset-stripping’ of Blunt’s life in external details to house a successor to Freddie Mongomery / Morrow as a current trend, reminiscence of the sentence in The Book of Evidence, ‘I could kill her because for me she was not alive’; the central character is Irish-born, son of a Church of Ireland bishop. [Gee’s review is answered in a letter from Neil Corcoran (Times Literary Supplement, 16 May 1997), pointing out that the childhood of Louis MacNeice, including the mongolism of his brother, has been grafted on, and further commending Banville for this ‘blending of Blunt and MacNeice’ as ‘an intensification of Banville’s abiding interest in doubleness or twinning and, it may be, a very postmodern touch in a roman à clé [sic]; and it supplies elements of pathos, humour and ethical and political complexity [which make it an] original and daring manoeuvre worthy of notice and approval in itself’, further nothing the ‘kind of Janus mask for Maskell’ and the heart-moving impact, making The Untouchable Banville’s ‘richest book to date, and (pace Gee) not a word too long. This is turn answered by Gee (30 May), reproving Corcoran on the grounds that he ‘failed to notice’ rhetoric, and riposting that invention is superior to soldering biographies together.] (The review is answered in letter by Neil Corcoran in Times Literary Supplement, 16 May 1997 and defended by Gee in Times Literary Supplement 30 May 1997.)

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Frank Kermode, ‘Gossip’, reviewing The Untouchables [sic], London Review of Books (5 June 1997), p.23, enquires ‘is that all’, and feels that the novelists is most comfortable when the story reaches a pause and an epiphany.

William Trevor, ‘Surfaces Beneath Surfaces’, reviewing of The Untouchable, in Irish Times (26 April 1997), considers the solecisms - ‘slacks’ for corduroys - are not errors but part of the double voice that Banville uses.

Chris Petit, ‘Autopsy of Englishness’, reviewing of The Untouchable, Guardian Weekly (18 May 1997): ‘Banville identifies what the English were best at all along: smut and secrecy.’

Carlo Gébler, reviewing The Untouchable (1997) in Fortnight Review [q.d.] (p.31), remarks that ‘the work is not enscribed with the author’s ‘ethnicity’ and thus represents ‘another step [...] along the road that leads away from those absolutely ghastly pieties which say that Irish writers can only properly be regarded as Irish if they reflect Irish mores in Irish stories with Irish settings blah, blah.’ Further, ‘[t]his is a book which will help us to turn our faces towards the world’. Reviewer finds it ‘actually moving’ and calls Banville ‘a lapsed esoteric novelist’.

Hugh Haughton, essay on John Banville, in The Dublin Review, ending: ‘Fiction is inherently forked. The pimp of circumstance, it can push in the direction of solidity, clutter and documentation, as in Trollope and Flaubert. Or, acting as a cryptic and mercurial psychopompos, it can move towards evanescence and dissolution [...]’.

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Jonathan Yardley, review of John Banville, Eclipse, in Washington Post (Vol. 31; No. 7 [q.d.]), writes: ‘dark and intensely interior, and accordingly [...] not to all tastes’; Quotes inter alia: ‘I am as a house walked up and down in by an irresistibly proprietorial stranger. I am all inwardness, gazing out in every intensifying perplexity upon a world in which nothing is exactly plausible, nothing is exactly what it is. And the thing itself, my little stranger, what of it? To have no past, no foreseeable future, only the steady pulse of a changeless present - how would that feel? There’s being for you. I imagine it in there, filling me to the skin, anticipating and matching my every movement, diligently mimicking the tiniest details of what I am and do. Why am I not writing in disgust, to feel thus horribly inhabited? Why not revulsion, instead of this sweet, melancholy sense of longing and lost promise?’; further, ‘It is not a girl like Lily I am dealing with - it is Lily herself, unique and mysterious, for all her ordinariness. Who knows what longings burn in that meagre breast?’.; concludes that ‘a compassionate heart beats somewhere inside Alexander; calls the novel circular and talky, but ‘also oddly rewarding, and finally its reward outweighs its shortcomings’.

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James Wood, reviewing Eclipse (2000), in The Irish Times [Weekend] (16 Sept. 2000), writes: ‘John Banville, the possessor of a very delicate prose, often uses that prose to allow characters who have squandered their essential moral delicacy to speak their minds to the reader’; narrator possesses ‘dappled moral awareness’. Further, Alex Cleave, the central character, ‘lives in dank, self-absorbed denial of his failures’. ‘As often in Banville’s fiction, a gap opens between this lack in the narrator and the fullness of the prose he “speaks”, and in that charged way the reader is invited to puzzle out the real nature of the man addressing us.’ Wood speaks of Alex Cleave as a ‘happy, erudite self-pleaser [who] has neglected his wife and been a poor, if floridly anxious, father’. The death of Alex’s daughter Cassie is obliquely mentioned here: ‘Alex has simply denied his daughter an independent reality .. Alex is a kind of murderer, really, one who smothers the children of reality with the pillow of his fantasies’. Wood Gives notice of an interview with Banville to appear on Thursday Arts Page (Irish Times, 21 Sept. 2000).

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Christopher Taylor, reviewing John Banville, Eclipse (Picador 2000), in Times Literary Supplement, 29 Sept. 2000), cites ghost story by Banville entitled ‘The Un-Heimlich Manoeuvre’ in NY Review of Books; remarks, ‘Where most of Banville’s books progress towards the uncovering of the narrator’s emptiness and uncertainly, Eclipse takes this as the starting-point and describes the attempt, however flawed, to find a way to live within such a state’, and quotes: ‘Never in my life, so it seems, have I beenso close up to the very stuff of the world, even as the world itself shimmers and turns transparent before my eyes.’ Notes tart one-liners, lyrical epiphanies and casually brilliant images and remarks that Eclipse has ‘a warmer and more personal feel than any of Banville’s previous novels’ and affirms that Banville has very few rivals among serious contemporary novelists. (p.23.)

Terry Eagleton, contrib. to Times Literary Supplement (1 December 2000), “Writer’s Book Choice”: chooses John Banville, Eclipse (Picador), dealing with of ‘one of his usual unpleasant, socially antagonistic protagonists, more adept at discriminating between tints of cloud than at conducting human relationships. [...] stylish, slyly self-conscious prose is more a way of fending off feeling than expressing it. But this splendidly crafted, dreamily slow-moving novel [...] culminates unpredictably in a powerful emotional trauma, and in doing so confirms its author’s reputation as one of the maestros of modern English prose.’ his remarks incl. comparisons with Nabokov and Iris Murdoch.

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Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000), [Chap. 2:]‘Irish Metahistories: John Banville and the Revisionist Debate’, pp.80-134: ‘[...] Banville’s fiction [...] represent[s] a notable, if oblique contribution to Irish historiographical debate. [...] He brings to a kind of historical writing what Seamus Deane has called “a high state of anxious self-reflection”. To this extent, even these “non-Irish” novels touch glancingly on the Irish condition: the conflict, which has been onoing since the end of the 1960s, inherent in the arrival of intellectual modernity at the apparent end of that intellectual era.’ (p.11.) ‘Banville uses metafictional techniques to alienate his reader from any possible understanding of these novels as realist texts. [...] Gabriel Godkin, the narrator of Birchwood, spends his life dealing with epistemological and representational difficulties. [... A] major part of the interest of these books lies in this representation and self-representation of crisis. In it, Banville intrudes in or “interferes” with Irish history writing, Irish intellectuals, the historical novel, and the nineteenth-century “Big House” mode that has been adopted by Irish novelists from Maria Edgeworth to William Trevor. It is precisely in Banville’s representation of crisis, his embravce of and play with crisis, that his difference from and rebuke to Irish historiography lies.’ (Ibid., p.112.) ‘In Birchwood, Banville installs the “Big House” novel, a form already characterised, if only thematically, by familial decline and political decay, and subverts it further, using the Gothic mode, and formal techniques such as direct address to the reader, narratorial self-deprecation, the invocation of a whole range of literary and philosophical intertexts, and historical anachronisms. This strategy has political as well as aesthetic implications.’ (p.113.) ‘[T]he empiricist tendency of revisionism was partly due to the problem of representation faced by nineteenth-century novelists in Ireland, a problem that Banville returned to in the early 1970s. [...] Writing pastiches of the “Big House” novel and the Irish Gothic, Banville attempts to subvert a literary tradition of the nineteenth-century Protestant bourgeoisie, at a time when it seemed that the Roman Catholic nationalist bourgeoisie had all but absorbed or incorporated the remains of the Ascendancy.’ (p.114.) Further, ‘Like the Irish new historians [T. W. Moody, et al.], Gabriel is moved to search for the “thing-in-itself”, Kant’s Ding-an-Sich, the positive fact. But even when empirically confronted with what appear to be such positive facts, Gabriel finds them recalcitrant.’ (p.120.) ‘[T]here is no doubt that the past did exist. Banville merely demonstrates that it is accessible to us only in textual form, and also mediated by the subjectivity of the author. So he openly acknowledges his debts to Arthor Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers and Thomas Kuhn’s The Copernican Revolution, well as other texts, that contribute to the “entextualisation” of history. But this textual self-consciousness immediately begs the question: what texts, or “evidence”, were not referred to in the course of the production of these novels. Thus, if Banville’s “biographies” of Copernicus and Kepler are “histories”, they openly acknowledge the degree to which they construct their objects. An archaeology of the past is produced, but the materials that facilitate that production are admitted as textualised ones. So Banville’s work embodies a kind of discussion and “revisionism” of the textual and epistemological issues that Irish academic history-writing has been anxious to skirt by recourse to professional authority and putative methodological objectivity.’ [134; End.]

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John Kenny, ‘The Ideal Elegies’, reviewing John Banville, The Revolutions Trilogy: Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, The Newton Letter in The Irish Times (6 Jan. 2001), draws attention to ‘ambitious article’ for New York Times in 1985, ‘Physics and Fiction: Order from Chaos’, in which Banville proposed a solution to the “two cultures” debate, using a version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to suggest that modern literature and science are in an identical quandary: ‘The dream of certainty, of arriving at a simple, elegant, and above all concrete answer, has had to be abandoned [...] as science moves away from the search for blank certainties it takes on more an dmore the character of poetic metaphor, and since fiction is moving, however sluggishly, in the same direction, perhaps a certain seepage between the two streams is inevitable.’ Kenny remarks that creativity, as Banville points out elsewhere, is often better served by an artist’s passionate misreading of ideas than by clinically accurate interpretation; notes that Mefisto has been excluded and questions the new arrangement. Further notes that the ‘single most important acknowledged sources is [Arthur] Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers (1959). ‘All three novels are, as Banville’s own qualification of postmodern self-reflexivity has it, “a way of writing about the creative process with out writing about a man who is writing a book about a man who is writing a book about a man who is writing a book”.’ Remarks that the first two titles are narratived in the third person and a pair, while the third is narratied by a contemporary Irish historian trying to finish a biography on Newton while sojourning at a Big House; suggests that this 70-page novella is out of placed in this edition, though the trilogy has ‘nevertheless [...] a perceptible unity.’ Further, ‘Banville’s treatment is grandly singular and sophisticates, yet the three principles are recognisably modern existential representatives; their inner lives take precedence, though their idealisstions are ultimately seen to be a mere shoring of fragments against ruins in a post-Renaissance age of total suspicion and provisionality.’ Concludes: ‘the light may be impossible to find but rarely has the darkness been delivered with such thrilling pathos.’ [Weekend, p.15; END.]

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Bernard O’Donoghue, ‘Keeping faith with the faceless’, review of Shroud, in The Irish Times (28 Sept. 2002), Weekend Review: ‘[...] Banville’s best critic, Joseph McMinn, acutely identified “the humanistic ideal at the heart” of the playful, Nabokov-like world of these fictions. Though in some of the early novels the patterned cleverness was sometimes more prominent than the humanity, by now McMinn’s early insight looks impressively prophetic. In these novels - in Shroud even more than Eclipse - every effect is subordinated to attentive portrayals of human dilemmas. The learnedness is still in evidence, as in the Revolutions trilogy; the acknowledgments (which significantly come at the end, by which time the desolated reader doesn’t want to know) feature the names of Nietzsche, Althusser, Paul De Man, Victor Klemperer, and a study of the Commedia dell’ Arte. The genius now - as in Nabokov - is the way that what seemed to be engaging and clever devices turn into (or turn out as) compassion and moral seriousness. / The central such device is the shroud of the title; it is most obviously the shroud of Turin, which the central characters want to see but don’t. So they don’t find out whether Christ’s face is on it. Then we remember that when Cass Cleave’s body was recovered in Eclipse it was faceless; next we notice how recurrent the word “faceless” is here. Axel confides early on that his ideal of feminine beauty “has no face, this fleshy idol”; the midget child (a touch of Fellini?) seen by Cass plays with a doll “whose face, she saw, had no features”. Axel reflects that for the classical actor (like Alex) “the mask is more like his face than his face is”; his first significant critical essay was “Shelley Defaced”; and as he dries his face at the end, he wonders if its imprint will appear on the towel. And “shrouded” is the verb he uses to describe his denied past. / All this is not mechanically sustained imagery; it is the heart of the book. [...] But Shroud will not easily be surpassed for combination of wit, moral complexity, and compassion. It is hard to see what more a novel could do.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

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John Kenny, ‘What lies beneath’, review The Sea, in The Irish Times (28 May 2005), Weekend ‘[…] Banville’s books are all, in a phrase that has recurred in the work itself, Books of the Dead. In The Sea, his 13th novel, the surpassing continuance of the theme is clear: “And yet people do go, do vanish. That is the greater mystery; the greatest.” / While even adoring readers might carp at the immediate mention of “the gods” in the very first sentence of The Sea, thereby believing they are simply being returned to yet another figuration of the allusive classicism for which Banville is at this stage famous, any resistance beyond that first sentence is futile. By his own intent, Banville’s prose reads more and more like absolute music, and once the long second sentence rolls in with its description of the “strange tide” of the titular sea, you are sunk, seduced even by sound alone. […] / It is perhaps Banville’s overarching achievement here to retain his uncompromising commitment to a technically perfected art while writing a meditation on childhood and age [.../] Banville’s fiction has a reputation for difficulty, but it should never be forgotten that the formal, indeed classical, correctness of his style, with its supreme Beckett-like appreciation of the complex syncopations of the humble comma, is organically related to the kind of mentalities and feelings he wishes to evoke. Simply, no writer does wistful like Banville: “Yes, this is what I thought adulthood would be, a kind of long indian summer, a state of tranquillity, of calm incuriousness, with nothing left of the barely bearable raw immediacy of childhood, all the things solved that had puzzled me when I was small, all mysteries settled, all questions answered, and the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed, quietus.” / The estrangements and rearrangements of conventional perceptions - or, more precisely, descriptions of perceptions - performed by Banville’s stylisations carry implied imperatives: you must smell more, you must hear more, you must touch more, you must, above all, see more. Whether or not we like to have the starkest of final realities mythicised for us, whether or not it is the siren’s song that will finally drown us, we can hear in Banville’s sensorily replete prose here an evidential fascination with life lived in face of the peculiar but certain knowledge that the element from whence we came will reclaim us. In the dying Anna’s words: “Strange [...] To be here, like that, and then not [...] To have been here.”

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Brendan MacNamee, ‘A Rosy Crucifixion: Imagination and Time in John Banville’s Birchwood’, in Studies (Spring 2003): ‘“I am, therefore I think. That seems inescapable.” (11) These two opening sentences of John Banville’s Birchwood hold the essence of the novel. In overturning the rationalism of Descartes and stressing the “I am” as the ground of being from which the thinking self, the self in time, flows, and not the other way around, Banville’s narrator, Gabriel, aligns himself firmly with such champions of the imagination as William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Gabriel’s “I am”, I take to be an echo of Coleridge; “The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.”) . His story is an attempt to glimpse the essence of this “I am”, and the nature of its relationship with “I think”. [Beginning]’. ‘[...] As to the contention about Gabriel’s overall journey, Cartesian certainty is precisely what he rejects, by overturning it with his opening sentence. Gabriel’s remark could, it is true, be read as a ringingly confident declaration in its own right, but the sentence that follows it, “That seems inescapable”, has the effect of splitting it down the middle, an effect intensified as we proceed through the narrative and relive with the protagonist his painful awareness of the nebulous but unbreakable connection between “I am” and “I think”, between imagination and time. And there is an ironic joke in the closing quote from Wittgenstein. It is precisely that whereof he cannot speak, that creates that whereof he can. It is the aching awareness of the silence beyond speech, the reaching out towards it, that gives rise to such artistic language structures as fiction and poetry to begin with. It is the moments of “silent intuition”, the intimations of harmony that are “felt only” (175), and beyond the reach of words, that create the anguished tensions within Gabriel that cause him to write his story in an attempt to make sense of it all. The attempt is doomed to failure, but it must be made. One can only “fail again. Fail better”. As Imhof realises, “the result of the effort is not as important as the effort itself”. This is despair, yes, but it is despair immanent with a vibrant joy, if only because of “those extraordinary moments when the pig finds the truffle embedded in the muck” (12) [End].’ (See Studies online.)

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Alan O’Riordan, review of Christine Falls, in Books Ireland ( Nov. 2006), p.250, following remarks about Banville’s ‘self-conscious style, his combination of modernist formalism and postmodernist ideas’: ‘[...] Christine Falls is a straightforward mystery story. A pathologist, Quirke, finds his brother-in-law, a doctor himself, doctoring a file in Quirke’s office. It’s the file of the eponymous Ms Falls and this chance intelligence leads Quirke into a web (Black even calls it a web) of sinister Catholicism that takes him from abortionists to Magdalene laundries and on to the Irish aristocracy of Boston. The plot has the right tempo - teasing yet exorable. 1950s Dublin is convincing if a tad clichéd; in fact, the reader rather misses it when the story shifts to Boston. Quirke even has a drinking buddy modelled on Brendan Behan. Christine Falls, is nothing if not generic, and satisfyingly so. They are all here., the heavies; a city hierarchy mysteriously propped up by the underworld; handy malcontents ready to spill the beans; the odd coincidence here and there; a lonely investigator, flawed but appealing. It’s an enjoyable but nwvery compulsive read which leaves one wondering how much notice one would give it were one not aware it was the work of our best novelist.’

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Alan O’Riordan, review of Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2008): ‘Quirke’s [the anti-hero] prior outing was a crime novel without too much crime at all; a mystery thriller with one awkwardly concealed mystery only [...] There is a considerably longer rap sheet here [...] It still smells of Dublin but, thank goodnes, a link between the official city and the kind of misdeeds has been put to one side. That didn’t work well in Christine Falls because the genre was not the place to delve into the elected controversy in a satisfying way. / Here the sordid story, while it could in a sense happen anywhere, seems a perfectly logical expression of the listless, stifling Dublin in which we find ourselves. Truly, it is an awful place. Furthermore, the central plot driver of opiate abuse, displaced to the 1950s, certainly reflects nimbly our deep-rooted national predilection for substances which keep the world at its distance. As with Christine Falls, Banville again displays masterly craft in moving the mystery along. But he again falls down in the machinations of the mystery itself. He gives us enough to be interested, and hides enough along the route, but the compulsiveness of the best crime stories and mysteries is not here. The plot is too straightforward, ultimately for that. [...; pp.13-14.)

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Joanne Watkiss, ‘Ghosts in the Head: Mourning, Memory and Derridean “Trace” in John Banville’s The Sea’, in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, 2 (March 2007): ‘[...] The Sea is a torrent of pasts blended with the uncertain, ever-shifting present of Max Morden: a recently bereaved art-historian who relocates to a seaside village, Ballyless, where he once spent a childhood holiday. Having lost his wife Anna to cancer, he is left with his unsympathetic daughter Claire to pick up the pieces. It is after Anna’s death that Max is drawn to Ballyless, where he met the Grace family as a child. The Graces’ consist of Connie and Carlo, parents of Chloe and Myles: a set of twins who become good friends with Max. The novel follows his return to a variety of childhood and adult pasts, involving people and moments that have influenced his life. For Max, bereavement generates an episode of reflection which compels him to visit different places and people. Yet it is unclear excatly what or who Max is mourning, his youth, his wife, disappointments of his life, or perhaps his childhood friends, Chloe and Myles Grace, whose untimely death (as children, they walk into the sea and are lost forever) returns to him in perpetual collision with a tentative present. Max’s mourning is initiated by Anna’s death but soon transforms into a more generalised grief, forcing him to return to moments of loss in the past. The death of his wife has resurrected departed figures in a fluid interchange of assorted pasts. As a ‘work of mourning’, Max writes “a Book of the Dead” in an effort to comprehend these events.’ Further: ‘As the narrative comes to an end, Max “recalls another moment” in Ballyless when ’the whole sea surged, it was not a wave, but a smooth rolling swell that seemed to come up from the deeps, as if something vast down there had stirred itself, and I was lifted briefly and carried a little way toward the shore and then was set down on my feet as before, as if nothing had happened.’ (94)  This memory enters Max’s mind at exactly the right time. Faced with the death of his wife, he reminds himself of the sea: an escape into oblivion and a return to a past trauma in the search of atonement. After this recollection, a “happy lightsomeness” appears before Max, “as if I had stepped suddenly out of the dark into a splash of pale, salt-washed sunlight”. The past has “told me what to do, and where I must go.” (95)  Escaping his daughter, the house he shared with his wife, and numerous sympathetic friends and relatives, Max retreats into his own memorial archive. Division between time and space provides an opening void for the creation of a ghost: or quite simply, a man in mourning.’ [online]. Bibl.: The articles references Derrida (Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, 1996 ), Cixous (‘Fiction and its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud’s The Uncanny’, in New Literary History 7 (1976) and Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, (New York, Columbia University Press, 1989.)

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Laura Miller, ‘Oh Gods’, review of The Infinities by John Banville, in The New York Times, Sunday Book Review (7 March 2010): ‘If The Infinities has the bones of a novel of ideas, it’s fleshed out and robed as a novel of sensibility and style. Its drapery is velvet and brocade - sumptuous and at times over-heavy. Banville is the sort of writer, drunk on Joyce, who wants to nail down every fleeting moment and sensation with some strenuously unprecedented combination of words: the “slurred clamor” of a startled heartbeat, the “humid conspiracy” of a grandmother, the “lumpy wodge of stirabout” that is cereal left too long in its bowl of milk. He will tell you how every room smells, and is forever pausing to liken a character’s gestures or stance to a scratching cat or the queen of diamonds or a mummified pharaoh. The high quality of these flourishes doesn’t entirely justify their sheer volume as they assail the reader. At the very least, there’s a plausibility issue when you’re writing from various points of view: the minds of ordinary people (that is to say, nonwriters) aren’t preoccupied with a continuous flow of extravagant metaphors and conceits. / Fortunately, lavish demonstrations of literary virtuosity don’t bog down The Infinities, as they often did with The Sea, the novel that won Banville the Man Booker Prize in 2005. [...] And here’s something odd: The family the Godleys bought the house from are descended from a soldier ennobled by Mary, Queen of Scots, after she had “the upstart and treasonous Elizabeth Tudor” beheaded. The younger Adam drives a car powered by sea water. “Wallace’s theory of evolution” has been recently overturned, and so has the theory of relativity, thanks to Godley’s own work. In his youth, the dying mathematician was responsible for “a series of equations, a handful of exquisite and unimpeachable paradoxes” that “unlocked the sealed chamber of time,” revealing, among other things, the infinite number of infinities and “a multitude of universes.” The universe in which The Infinities takes place, it seems, is not our own. / “In an infinity of worlds all possibilities are fulfilled,” so in Godley’s world the gods may be real.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

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Janet Maslin, ‘Gods Are in Their Heaven, but All’s Not Right With World’, review of The Infinities by John Banville, with Elegy for April by Benjamin Black [John Banville], in The New York Times, Books of the Times (4 April 2010). ‘[...] The Infinities, a much merrier novel than its premise might suggest, is the exponentially more elaborate effort. It is derived from Heinrich von Kleist’s 1807 play Amphitryon, about the Theban general of the title. (Synergy alert: Mr. Banville has adapted Kleist plays for the stage, including this one.) And a character in The Infinities, an actress, is named Helen. In addition to the other classical allusions she provides, Helen has been cast in Amphitryon as Alcmene, a woman seduced by mythology’s best-known stealth lady killer, Zeus. / In The Infinities Zeus is better known as Dad because he is the subject of much complaining from Hermes, the immortal who narrates this story. Take the torrid sexual encounter Helen has just had with her otherwise dreary husband, whose body Zeus decided to inhabit during predawn hours. It fell to Hermes to hold back the dawn while the assignation took place, and he resents such responsibilities. “You try telling that hotspur Phaeton why he was reined in, or rosy-fingered Aurora why I had to shove her in the face,” Hermes archly tells the reader. “But an hour of suspended day there must be, and was.” / In a narrative that makes intricate use of this material’s mythic, dramatic and philosophical possibilities while remaining improbably comedic, the members of the Godley family (that’s right) gather at the ancestral home. There the patriarch, Adam, the esteemed mathematician, lies near death in the Sky Room (that’s right), his fate in the hands of Dr. Fortune (that’s right). Prospective mourners include Adams’s glum son, also named Adam, and his wife Helen, the aforementioned hot number. The dying man’s daughter, Petra, is the family member best suited to the sad situation. “At last,” Mr. Banville writes, Petra has found “a calamity commensurate with her calamitous state of mind.”’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

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Sara Keating, ‘All artists think they are gods, creating worlds that didn’t existing, bringing something into the world. You might call me an unreconstructed 19th century Romantic artist’ [interview with Banville], in The Irish Times (4 June 2011), Weekend - quotes: “The person sitting at a desk writing is entirely different than the person who gets up and has a drink and re-enters the world,” he explains, as if the Banville-Black dichotomy is nothing compared with the split between the writer and the person who must live in the world. / “It is like when you are asleep and in the process of dreaming: you are both yourself and a different self as well. And fiction is a process like dreaming, where you have to be in some other zone. It is shocking sometimes when you are doing revisions and you come across a passage that you have no memory of writing. Artists are Pinocchios trying to be real boys, our noses growing longer as we tell more fictions.” Further: The association between dreaming and “the numinous otherworld of writing” has become more vivid as Banville has aged, to the extent that dreaming has taken the place of reading fiction. “I find I have no use for fiction any more,” he says. “Indeed, I write far more fiction than I read these days. I think it is one of the great losses of age. And yet I did not know what other riches awaited me. Now I read histories, letters, biographies, poetry, philosophy, which offers a rich cleansing of the mind. But I don’t seem to need stories the way I used to. / I think it is because my dream life has become so much more elaborate over the years. I have these Technicolor dreams that go on for hours, and that is some compensation, because there is a natural collaboration between the creative mind and the sleeping mind. I am not a Freudian, but my dreams offer some vivid material for my writing.” Keating describes the ocasion as ‘an interview that is best described as efficient’ during which ‘there is also a near altercation with a waiter and an abrupt ending to our conversation when Banville attempts to walk off mid-sentence’, continuing: ‘So, as much as he says he has been unfairly branded ornery and difficult, his defence is delivered with a jowly scowl.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

Note that Philip Roth also expressed disdain for fiction was later on in June 2011: “I’ve stopped reading fiction. I don’t read it at all. I read other things: history, biography. I don’t have the same interest in fiction that I once did.” How so? “I don’t know. I wised up.” (Quoted at BandofThebes website [online] - quoting the Financial Times’ interview by Jan Dalley of 24 June [online; accessed 28.06.2011].

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Susan Mansfield, Edinburgh Festival Book Reviews (July-Aug. 2011) [online]: Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville quoted John Updike on the subject of “giving the ordinary its beautiful due”. This is part of what writers do, he said, but also what memory does, storing up vivid flashes of life which may appear to have no particular significance. / Memory plays a part in [..] The Infinities, “a kind of Shakespearean romp” inspired by Heinrich von Kleist’s little known play Amphitryon. Kleist aimed to meld Greek tragedy and Shakespearean burlesque, and Banville set out to do the same, writing a book which was “full of airiness and silliness, but would still have dark places under the stairs”. / In a country house in Ireland, the family gather around what may be the deathbed of Adam Godley. While he lies in a coma, floating in a hinterland of imagination and memories, his extended family find themselves in their own “forest of Arden”, complete with irresponsible, playful gods. Banville renders all of this in his usual honed, poetic prose. / Weighing in on the debate around the “Death of the Novel”, Banville said: “The big novel is dying, the sort of thing written by Hemingway or Joyce. What those novels did, telling us stories about life, has now been taken over by HBO [the American cable TV network behind The Sopranos and The Wire]. The novel needs to transform into something else. I’m trying to turn it into a poetic form.”

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Alison Flood, ‘John Banville wins Kafka prize - Irish novelist given honour thought by some to be a Nobel prize augury’, in The Guardian, ([Thurs.] 26 May 2011): ‘[...] he author, who won the Man Booker for his novel The Sea, said there was “a certain childish pleasure in being singled out to get a prize”. “It’s foolish to deny it – we try to look down on the Booker but everyone’s dying to win it – it’s the biggest toy in the shop.” / The Kafka prize is also, he said, “one of the ones one really wants to get. It’s an old style prize and as an old codger it’s perfect for me ... I’ve been wrestling with Kafka since I was an adolescent. I think he’s a great aphorist, a great letter writer, a great diarist, a great short story writer, and a great novelist – I’d put novelist last.” / Banville wins $10,000 (£6,000) and a bronze statuette of the Kafka monument in Prague. “It will glare at me from the mantelpiece,” he said. “Roddy Doyle congratulated me on winning, and I said I wonder what kind of award Kafka would have given. Roddy said that it wouldn’t have stayed still on the mantelpiece.”

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John Boyne, ‘The World and Its Wicked Ways’, review of A Death in Summer, in The Irish Times (4 June 2010), Weekend Review, p.10: ‘The question of who killed Diamond Dick becomes somehow less important than the slow deciphering of the suspects [...] As the novel develops, the unsettling image of an orphanage for boys, ominously known as the Cage, rears its head and, with it, everything we know now, with the benefit of half a century’s testimonies, and everything they didn’t know then. Quirke, resident in this same orphanage as a boy, is drawn to it and its secrets, and it is here, in the dark corridors populated by “boys sidling past ... their downcast eyes” that motives and personal histories are finally uncovered. [...] There is no predictability to Quirke: he remains a cipher of sorts, neither likable nor annoying, simply there, watching, considering, piecing things together, solving the puzzles, able to unmask the killer but uncertain about who in fact should take the blame. He might be a pathologist, but, in this regard, his actions are not far removed from those of a novelist. Of any genre.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Declan Burke, Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (Dublin: Liberties Press 2011) - interview with Banville: ‘The Benjamin Black books are like doing carpentry, they’re like a well-made table, an elegant chair. They’re good, honest, straightforward - it’s a craftsman’s pleasure. I don’t get any artistic pleasure. And that’s the way I like it. And that, of course, immediately contradicts what I was just saying about not differentiating between genre and other fiction, but I just see it as a different type of writing.’ (Quoted in Eamonn Kelly, review, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2011, p.210.)

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Philip Davison, ‘Sweet retribution’, review of Vengeance, in The Irish Times (16 June 2012), Weekend Review, p.10: ‘[...] The novel opens with Victor Delahaye taking Davy, son of his business partner, Jack Clancy, out sailing. It’s a perfect day to be on the water, but Davy, a boy child of 24, is uncomfortable. He doesn’t like being in a boat, doesn’t know why he’s there. This is the Ireland of the 1950s. The Protestant Delahayes and the Catholic Clancys are formidable rival families. There exists between them an unequal business partnership built over two generations, with a third set to take over. They own garages. They ship coal and timber. The incumbent partners are shrewd men. They recognise their complementary skills and fully exploit them. The ruthlessness engendered by their antipathy towards each other has made a strong contribution to the success of their joint business venture. The philandering Jack – the small boss – though he despises Victor Delahaye, is more interested in playing at love with his mistresses, as Sylvia, his English wife, later tells Quirke. Jack will proceed regardless, it would appear, his sense of excitement, envy and sweet regret unimpeded. No amount of infidelity, boardroom chicanery or jealousy can stand in the way of profit, or so it would appear. These are resilient people, well versed in staying the course and concealing their vulnerability. [...] It is a pleasure to read.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Arminta Wallace, ’I’m at last beginning to learn how to write, and I can let the writing mind dream’ [ interview with John Banville], in The Irish Times (30 June 2012), Weekend Review, p.7: ‘“The past has always obsessed me,” says John Banville. I look carefully at him to see if this is a Banvillian joke: a moment earlier, as we made our way to the bar of the Merrion Hotel, he had been riffing with considerable glee on the vagueness and vagaries of the 66-year-old memory. “It’s absolutely true,” he protests. “The middle stuff is all gone. But the past is incredibly vivid. We think we’re living in the present, but we’re really living in the past. / “That’s one of the themes of the novel; that we live most vividly in the past. It’s a strange thing. Why does the past seem so magical, so fraught, so luminous? At the time it was just, ugh, another boring bloody day. But, to look back on, it’s a day full of miracles and light and extraordinary events. Why is this? What process do we apply to the past, to give it this vividness? I don’t know. And that’s why I keep probing at the problem.” [...] Although technically part of a trilogy with Eclipse and Shroud, Ancient Light stands as a novel in its own, majestic right. It is, it almost goes without saying, ravishingly written and scrupulously observed. But it’s also a highly playful book, full of puns and puzzles and hilarious – or are they vicious? – pastiches.’ [Cont.]

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Arminta Wallace, interview with John Banville, in The Irish Times (30 June 2012)- cont.: [Banville, on the central relationship between a 15-year old boy and a 35-year old woman:] ‘“It seems to me a perfectly innocent relationship. I know that might seem strange. But here are these two people who need comforting, and they comfort each other in the only way they can. Because they can’t really talk. There’s nothing for them to talk about. Mrs Gray just waffles on, and Alex has, as she says, one thing on his mind. But this is what human beings do, offer each other comfort as best we can. We take it where we can find it in this terrible world. And why wouldn’t we? So I couldn’t find anything shocking in these two lost souls. Well, one is a lost soul. One is a soul that hasn’t found itself yet.” [Wallace remarks:] Even innocence isn’t quite innocent in Banville’s portrayal of the relationship, with its glancing but persistent references to incest and religiosity and its almost forensic examination of the complexity of any, never mind family, human interactions. / In this respect the text is, its author insists, self-determining. So, sometimes, are the characters. The book’s evocative title is supplied by an Argentinian called Fedrigo Sorrán, who materialises in a hotel bar and talks to Cleave of “heat death and the Hubble constant, of quarks and quirks and multiple infinities”. The ancient light is the light of galaxies, which takes as long to reach us as our universe has existed. / It’s a reminder that Banville is the author of an earlier trilogy – Dr Copernicus, Kepler and The Newton Letter – about scientists. “I”ve always been fascinated by physics and cosmology,” he says. “It gets more and more scary the older you get. Since I’ll soon be out there.”’

See also Wallace’s notice on Eclipse (pb. edn), recounts plot: ‘Cleave is not alone. He is convinced that he has been summoned to the house; and he has scarcely moved in before he starts seeing ghosts [...] visions of the past [or] dreams about his difficult, disturbed daughter Cass, now a scholarly somewhere in Europe?’ Calls Eclipse ‘a stunning demonstration of [Banville’s] an ability to breathe an elaborately beautiful artefact’ but also ‘a deeply-felt and desperately moving meditation on love, parenthood and what makes us human.’ (The Irish Times, [15 Sept. 2001], Paperback Notices). See also her interview-article, ‘A World Without People’, in The Irish Times (21 Sept. 2000) [Weekend].

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Karl Miller, “So Here’s To You, Mrs. Gray”, review of Ancient Light, in The Irish Times (7 July 2012), Weekend Review, p.11. ‘Cleave has married and has fathered a child. In much later times he goes to Italy in pursuit of the last days of his long-lost daughter, spent in the company of the ominous Axel Varder, who appears to allude to the disgraced postmodernist star literary theorist Paul de Man, a name Banville may have been loath to leave out of a novel prone to colourful and evocative names. He has meanwhile befriended the film star Dawn Devonport, a less tender bond than the one he had with homespun Mrs Gray, whose maiden name is scarcely divulged in the book and has escaped the mind of its reminiscent narrator. Memory and mystery are, in general, a concern of John Banville’s. Memory and invention are, according to his narrator, the same thing. Further tests are hereby imposed on the project of lucidity. / The words chosen by this lord of language may be meant to mimic the language of Cleave’s theatrical day job. “Satyrs bent on rapine” (or rape), talk of the demonic, might be cases in point. Words such as “supererogatory” and “leporine” are used. The lovers are referred to as “Lady Venus and her sportive boy”; a holiday is grandly referred to as “the Feast of St Priapus, perhaps”. But he also uses homely terms, such as “hanky-panky”, a mainly Scots-Irish expression, I believe, for what happens in the hay of the ruined and rained-on hut.’ [Cont.]

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Karl Miller, “So Here’s To You, Mrs. Gray”, in The Irish Times (7 July 2012) - cont.: ‘The words of the book move between the domestic and the aureate (or “aurate”, as a possibly mischievous spelling puts it). Discussion of the novel, however, is likely to dwell less on linguistic matters, or on the solution of mysteries, than on the presentation of Mrs Gray and her effect on her young chap, and on his awareness of that “purblind optician”, as he calls the spectacled Mr Gray. / This is very much what I like about the novel, those parts of it, in other words, that cut down on orotundity, that require other words. Mrs Gray is human, funny, fleshly. [...] suspenseful close that can’t be thought to be the end of a trilogy. / None of this is meant to make light of the gift for words and wordplay that helps to depict this not very Irish Ireland (as a British reader might suppose it), while the enlightening of the innocent by the woman at the waning of her youth is done proud in Banville’s novel. In one way or another the book has an aspect of social history: there can never have been a golden time when secrecy defeated the neighbours and nobody at all knew what was going on.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

 

Christopher Benfey, “Doubling Back”, review of Ancient Light, by John Banville, in The New York Times (9 Nov. 2012), “Books”. ‘[...] Two traumatic events from the past hang in the narrative balance. First, there is Cleave’s love affair, in the spring and summer he was 15, with the 35-year-old mother of his best friend, Billy Gray, in the “tight little town” near the Irish coast where he grew up. And, second, there is the suicide, four decades later, of his own troubled daughter, Cass, under mysterious circumstances in the Ligurian coastal town of Portovenere, on the bay where Shelley drowned. / What brings these two events - or, rather, Cleave’s shape-shifting memory of them - together is the movie, in which he will play Axel Vander, a famous literary critic with an unsavory past. Cleave learns the puzzling detail that Vander also happened to be in Portovenere when Cass, a specialist in arcane literary theory, plunged to her death. Readers might remember a younger Cleave as the ghost-haunted narrator of Banville’s 2001 midlife crisis novel, Eclipse. Those who have also read his 2003 novel, Shroud, the second installment in what can now be seen as a trilogy, will know a great deal more about Vander and Cass than Cleave does - “cleave,” that cloven word that means both “to adhere” and its opposite, “to divide.”’ [Cont.]

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Christopher Benfey, “Doubling Back”, in The New York Times (9 Nov. 2012) - cont.: ‘Division is the driver of Ancient Light, a tangled tale in which everything has a double. Axel anagrammatically scrambles Alex; Mrs. Gray, his matronly inamorata, may or may not be a woman first glimpsed on a bicycle in “taut suspenders and pearly-white satin knickers”; the self-destructive movie star Dawn Devonport (note the double consonants) portrays the suicidal Cass; the memoir Cleave is writing bleeds into the movie he is making. Meanwhile, the exploits of the fictional Axel Vander are based on the real-life career of the critic Paul de Man, who, unknown to his admirers until his posthumous exposure, contributed articles during World War II to a pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic journal in Belgium and later wrote brilliantly about Shelley. / And then, of course, there is the doubling inherent in the actor’s profession, “this absurd trade in which I have spent my life pretending to be other people, above all pretending not to be myself.” After a lifetime on the stage, however, Cleave has curiously little to say about memorable roles or leading ladies. Stray remarks about the theater tend to be excuses to talk about something else, lapses in memory, for example (“Gary Fonda in ‘The Grapes of Noon’?”), or “the incoherence and manifold nature of what used to be considered the individual self.”’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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