Readerz.Net / John Banville
William John Banville (born 8 December 1945) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, adapter of dramas and screenwriter. Though he has been described as "the heir to Proust, via Nabokov", Banville himself maintains that W. B. Yeats and Henry James are the two real influences on his work.
Banville's work has led to many accolades, including the 1976 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the 2005 Booker Prize, the 2011 Franz Kafka Prize, the 2013 Austrian State Prize for European Literature and the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2007, Italy made him a Cavaliere of the Ordine della Stella d'Italia (essentially a knighthood) in 2017. He is a former member of Aosdána, having voluntarily relinquished the financial stipend in 2001 to another, more impoverished, writer.
Born at Wexford in south-east Ireland, Banville published his first novel, Nightspawn, in 1971. A second, Birchwood, followed two years later. "The Revolutions Trilogy", published between 1976 and 1982, comprises three works, all of which reference renowned scientists in their titles: Doctor Copernicus, Kepler and The Newton Letter. His next work, Mefisto, had a mathematical theme. His 1989 novel The Book of Evidence, shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winner of that year's Guinness Peat Aviation award, heralded a second trilogy, three works which deal in common with the work of art. "The Frames Trilogy" is completed by Ghosts and Athena, both published during the 1990s. Banville's thirteenth novel, The Sea, won the Booker Prize in 2005. In addition, he publishes crime novels as Benjamin Black — most of these feature the character of Quirke, an Irish pathologist based in Dublin.
Banville is considered a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He lives in Dublin.
William John Banville was born to Agnes (née Doran) and Martin Banville, a garage clerk, in Wexford, Ireland. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Anne Veronica "Vonnie" Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a memoir of growing up in Wexford.
Banville was educated at CBS Primary, Wexford, a Christian Brothers school, and at St Peter's College, Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect, he did not attend university. Banville has described this as "A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free." Alternately he has stated that college would have had little benefit for him: "I don't think I would have learned much more, and I don't think I would have had the nerve to tackle some of the things I tackled as a young writer if I had been to university – I would have been beaten into submission by my lecturers." After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus, which allowed him to travel at deeply discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland, he became a sub-editor at The Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor.
Since 1990, Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. After The Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at The Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left. He's also a commited vegetarian.
Banville published his first book, a collection of short stories titled Long Lankin, in 1970. He has disowned his first published novel, Nightspawn, describing it as "crotchety, posturing, absurdly pretentious".
Banville has written three trilogies: the first, The Revolutions Trilogy, focused on great men of science and consisted of Doctor Copernicus (1976), Kepler (1981), and The Newton Letter (1982). He said he became interested in Kepler and other men of science after reading Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers. He realized that, like him, scientists were trying to impose order in their work.
The second trilogy, sometimes referred to collectively as The Frames Trilogy, consists of The Book of Evidence (1989), with several of its characters being featured in Ghosts (1993); Athena (1995) is the third to feature an unreliable narrator and explore the power of works of art.
The third trilogy consists of Eclipse, Shroud and Ancient Light, all of which concern the characters Alexander and Cass Cleave.
Beginning with Christine Falls, published in 2006, Banville has written crime fiction under the pen name Benjamin Black. He writes his Benjamin Black crime fiction much more quickly than he composes his literary novels. He appreciates his work as Black as a craft, while as Banville he is an artist. He considers crime writing, in his own words, as being "cheap fiction". In a July 2008 interview with Juan José Delaney in the Argentine newspaper La Nación, Banville was asked if his books had been translated into Irish. He replied that nobody would translate them and that he was often referred to pejoratively as a West Brit.
Banville is highly scathing of all of his work, stating of his books: "I hate them all ... I loathe them. They're all a standing embarrassment." Instead of dwelling on the past he is continually looking forward, "You have to crank yourself up every morning and think about all the awful stuff you did yesterday, and how you can compensate for that by doing better today." He does not read reviews of his work as he already knows — "better than any reviewer" — the places in which its faults lie.
His typical writing day begins with a drive from his home in Dublin to his office by the river. He writes from 9 a.m. until lunch. He then dines on bread, cheese and tea and resumes working until 6 p.m., at which time he returns home. He writes on two desks at right angles to each other, one facing a wall and the other facing a window through which he has no view and never cleans. He advises against young writers approaching him for advice: "I remind them as gently as I can, that they are on their own, with no help available anywhere".
Banville is considered by critics as a master stylist of English, and his writing has been described as perfectly crafted, beautiful, dazzling. He is known for his dark humour, and sharp, wintery wit. He has been described as "the heir to Proust, via Nabokov".
Don DeLillo describes Banville's work as "dangerous and clear-running prose", David Mehegan of The Boston Globe calls him "one of the great stylists writing in English today", Val Nolan in The Sunday Business Post calls his style "lyrical, fastidious, and occasionally hilarious"; The Observer described The Book of Evidence as "flawlessly flowing prose whose lyricism, patrician irony and aching sense of loss are reminiscent of Lolita." Gerry Dukes, reviewing The Sea in the Irish Independent, hailed Banville as a "lord of language".
Banville has said that he is "trying to blend poetry and fiction into some new form". He writes in the Hiberno-English dialect and dreads this being lost if he were to move abroad as other Irish writers have done.
Four of Banville's novels (and one of Black's) have featured the trope of a character's eyes darting back and forth "like a spectator at a tennis match".
Banville said in an interview with The Paris Review that he liked Vladimir Nabokov's style; however, he went on, "But I always thought there was something odd about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then I read an interview in which he admitted he was tone deaf." Heinrich von Kleist is influential, Banville having written adaptations of three of his plays (including Amphitryon), as well as using the myth of Amphitryon as a basis for his novel The Infinities.
Banville has said that he imitated James Joyce as a boy: "After I'd read The [sic] Dubliners, and was struck at the way Joyce wrote about real life, I immediately started writing bad imitations of The [sic] Dubliners." However, The Guardian reports: "Banville himself has acknowledged that all Irish writers are followers of either Joyce or Beckett — and he places himself in the Beckett camp." He has also acknowledged other influences. During a 2011 interview on the program Charlie Rose, Rose asked, "The guiding light has always been Henry James?" and Banville replied, "I think so, I mean people say, you know, I've been influenced by Beckett or Nabokov but it's always been Henry James ... so I would follow him, I would be a Jamesian." Meanwhile, in a 2012 interview with Noah Charney, Banville cited W. B. Yeats and Henry James as the two real influences on his work. Responding to the accusation that Fyodor Dostoevsky and Albert Camus were worthy comparisons, Banville said: "Dostoyevsky is such a bad writer it is hard to take him seriously... Ditto Camus".
In 2011, he offered to donate his brain to The Little Museum of Dublin "so visitors could marvel at how small it was".
He considers himself to be "incurably terrified of air travel", fearing "the plane going down amid the terrible shrieking of engines and passengers".
On 21 August 2017, the RTÉ Radio 1 weekday afternoon show Liveline was discussing a report on Trinity College Dublin's use of 100,000 animals to conduct scientific research over the previous four years when a listener pointed out that Banville had previously raised the matter but been ignored. Banville personally telephoned Liveline to call the practice "absolutely disgraceful" and told the tale of how he had come upon some revolting women:
Asked if he received any other support for his stance in the letter he sent to The Irish Times, he replied:
This for Banville was a rare intervention of its kind, revealing to the public a different side — as he acknowledged when the presenter asked him if he had a history of objecting to activities such as blood sport:
When the subject of eating meat was raised, Banville responded: "I don't".
Banville has published novels, short stories, plays, non-fiction and book reviews.
The following have been published as Benjamin Black:
Awards and honours
2005 Booker Prize
Banville won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea, after having been on the short list in 1989 for The Book of Evidence. His later work was contending with novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, Ali Smith, Sebastian Barry and Zadie Smith. The judges vote was split between Banville and Ishiguro, and Chairman of Judges John Sutherland cast the winning vote in favour of Banville.
Earlier that year Sutherland had written approvingly of Ian McEwan's novel Saturday. Banville strongly criticized the work in The New York Review of Books. Banville later admitted that, upon reading Sutherland's letter in response to his review, he had thought: "[W]ell, I can kiss the Booker goodbye. I have not been the most popular person in London literary circles over the past half-year. And I think it was very large of Sutherland to cast the winning vote in my favour."
Banville was noted for having written a letter in 1981 to The Guardian requesting that the Booker Prize, for which he was "runner-up to the shortlist of contenders", be given to him so that he could use the money to buy every copy of the longlisted books in Ireland and donate them to libraries, "thus ensuring that the books not only are bought but also read – surely a unique occurrence."
When his The Book of Evidence was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize, Banville said a friend, whom he described as "a gentleman of the turf", instructed him "to bet on the other five shortlistees, saying it was a sure thing, since if I won the prize I would have the prize-money, and if I lost one of the others would win ... But the thing baffled me and I never placed the bets. I doubt I'll be visiting Ladbrokes any time soon".
2011 Kafka Prize
In 2011, Banville was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize. Marcel Reich-Ranicki and John Calder featured on the jury. Banville described the award as "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" and said his bronze statuette trophy "will glare at me from the mantelpiece".
Nobel Prize in Literature
Banville is considered a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Banville married American textile artist Janet Dunham, and their two sons are now adults. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like "a murderer who's just come back from a particularly bloody killing". They have separated.
Banville lives with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland. They have two daughters together.
He lives in Dublin.