Banville, John 1945- (Benjamin Black)
Banville, John 1945- (Benjamin Black)
Born December 8, 1945, in Wexford, Ireland; son of Martin and Agnes Banville; married Janet Dunham, 1969; children: Colm, Douglas. Education: Attended St. Peter's College (Wexford, Ireland).
Home—Howth, Dublin, Ireland. Agent—Sheil Land Associates, Ltd., 43 Doughty St., London WC1N 2LF, England.
Writer, journalist, editor. Irish Press, Dublin, Ireland, copy editor, 1969-83; Irish Times, Dublin, sub-editor, 1986-88, literary editor, 1988-99.
Irish Arts Council Macaulay Fellowship, 1973; Allied Irish Banks Prize from the Irish Academy of Letters, 1973, and American-Irish Foundation Literary Award, 1976, both for Birchwood; James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1976, for Doctor Copernicus; Guardian Fiction Prize, 1980, for Kepler; Guinness Peat Aviation Award, 1989, for The Book of Evidence; Man Booker Prize for fiction, 2005, for The Sea.
Long Lankin (short fiction), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1970, revised edition, Gallery (Loughcrew, Ireland), 1984.
Nightspawn (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1971.
Birchwood (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1973, Vintage International (New York, NY), 2007.
Doctor Copernicus (historical novel), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1976, Norton (New York, NY), 1977.
Kepler (historical novel), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1981, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1983.
The Newton Letter: An Interlude (novella), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1982, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1987.
Mefisto (novel), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1986, Godine (Boston, MA), 1989.
The Book of Evidence, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1989, Scribner (New York, NY), 1990.
Ghosts (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
The Broken Jug: After Heinrich von Kleist (screenplay), Gallery Books (Loughcrew, Ireland), 1994.
Athena (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1995.
The Untouchable (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
Eclipse (novel), Picador (London, England), 2000, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
God's Gift: A Version of Amphitryon by Heinrich von Kleist, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Meath, Ireland), 2000.
Shroud, Picador (London, England), 2002.
Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2003.
The Sea, Picador (London, England), 2005.
Love in the Wars: A Version of Penthesilea by Heinrich Von Kleist, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, Meath, Ireland), 2005.
"QUIRKE" SERIES; WRITING AS BENJAMIN BLACK
Christine Falls, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2006.
The Silver Swan, Picador (London, England), 2007, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2008.
The Lemur, Picador (London, England), 2008.
Upon the publication of his first work, a collection of short fiction titled Long Lankin, Irish writer John Banville was labeled "a ray of hope for the future of fiction" by Stanley Reynolds in New Statesman. The author is esteemed not only for his evocative and masterful prose but for his experimental style, which challenges the traditional format of the novel. His works contain meticulous historical documentation, extensive metaphors, and complex literary allusions, and they have been compared to the writings of such Irish authors as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Nearly two decades after being deemed by Reynolds as "obviously a man to watch," Banville continues to elicit significant critical approval. Mefisto, for example, prompted Times Literary Supplement reviewer William Kelly to write: "If a book, as [Franz] Kafka put it, should serve as an ice axe for the frozen sea within us, then this one is hard enough for the job."
Issues commonly addressed in Banville's fiction are loss, destructive love, and the pain inherent in attaining freedom. Long Lankin is divided into two sections and consists of nine separate episodes. The book, according to Reynolds, is "a faintly allegorical tale full of extremely intelligent and articulate characters." A reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement was particularly impressed by the episodes "Nightwind," a story about a party going awry, and "Persona," about a man wandering through his empty house. The critic explained that Banville, injecting the work with a somber tone, "strings the stories together on a single line of tension" where "the feeling of emotional tautness is seldom lost." Although lamenting that "the overriding seriousness of [Long Lankin] does lead, at times, to an uncharacteristic self-indulgence," the reviewer concluded that Banville's book is "an impressive first appearance."
In his novel Nightspawn, Banville conveys what Elsa Pendleton in Progressive described as "a surrealistic tale of love, murder, and political intrigue of various obscure kinds." Set in Greece, the novel depicts a young author, Ben White, who becomes involved in schemes to overthrow the government. The story is entrenched in literary allusion, Pendleton noted, as it introduces "a large supporting cast partly composed of doppelgangers and imaginary shapes dimly seen hiding under things." White encounters a German journalist and his companion, as well as an Englishman, his young wife, and her handsome brother. In addition to recounting a military coup and an assassination, the story involves a highly sought-after document, violence, and incest.
Nightspawn is reportedly a parody of several genres in which Banville attempts to expose the limitations of the traditional novel through a deliberately confusing narrative. Although the work was generally well received, some critics were baffled by Banville's intentions in the book, deeming it everything from a thriller to a black comedy to a study in decadence. Thomas Lask in the New York Times found this ambiguity disappointing, claiming that after a "promising beginning … the story goes every which way and never makes up its mind what it is." Expressing a negative view of Banville's work was Spectator reviewer Auberon Waugh, who declared Nightspawn an "utterly pointless book" comprised of "unconnected and inexplicable episodes." Pendleton, however, asserted that "chaotic and ambiguous though the story may be, the final impression is that Banville has achieved the result he wanted—an extended metaphor of trouble and despair as experienced by a sensitive man confronting a malignant universe." Furthermore, she praised Banville's dry humor and rich use of words: "This is the rare book containing passages which can be enjoyed for the language, quite apart from the story."
Striking a grave tone and evoking elements of gothic evil is Banville's third work, Birchwood. It tells the story of Gabriel Godkin, a young boy growing up on a decaying Irish estate during the nineteenth century in a family rife with alcoholism, insanity, and ruthless behavior. After a series of disasters, Gabriel leaves home to search for his sister, though he is not sure she actually exists. He joins a circus and travels about Ireland, witnessing famine and revolution in addition to a variety of freak accidents. By story's end, Gabriel has discovered family incest, inheritances, twins, and illegitimate relatives; but despite the chaotic and confining nature of his background, he finally manages to gain his independence.
In his review of Birchwood for the Spectator, Waugh was again displeased with Banville's work, finding the novel too highbrow and given to literary trends. Although he thought Banville "a writer of startling originality, with a most vivid and unusual imagination and rare ability for sustaining interest," Waugh asked: "Why does he make the first twenty-one pages … a compendium of deliberate mystification and every silly literary trick which inane fashion or pretentious whimsy has contrived?" Many critics, however, praised Banville's book as an artful undertaking that combines Victorian sensationalism with the author's own somber tone and poetic style. J.A. Cuddon in Books and Bookmen proclaimed the novel "witty and exuberant…. Its originality springs for the most part from Mr. Banville's lyrical gifts as a dexterous stringer together of words." Cuddon concluded by deeming the work "a moral tale … which is continuously alive with Mr. Banville's sardonic humour, invention and verbal ingenuity."
After the success of his first three books, Banville wrote two historical novels, Doctor Copernicus and Kepler, both based on the lives and work of noted scientists. The first, for which Banville received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, is a fictional account of the life of the fifteenth-century Polish astronomer. Regarded as the founder of modern astronomy, Copernicus established the heliocentric theory of the solar system, which states that the earth rotates daily on its axis and planets revolve in orbits around the sun. Banville's book relates the squalor and superstition, as well as the prevailing religious authorities, against which Copernicus had to fight in order to establish his revolutionary theory of an ordered universe.
Generally well received, Doctor Copernicus was commended for its meticulous recreation of the chaotic world in which the scientist lived. Judging the novel "outstanding," a reviewer in the Economist wrote: "On Copernicus's own struggles to fend off the vileness of his world … Banville is superb." The critic wrote that Doctor Copernicus is "among the very best" of historical novels that "illuminate both the time that forms their subject-matter and the time in which they are read." Although New Statesman reviewer Julian Barnes found fault with some of Banville's prose and with the novel's pervasive seriousness, he praised the work for its "earnestness, ambition, and stern historicity…. Banville presents this background with … informed vigor, especially the sense of cosmic claustrophobia which agonised Copernicus into the idea of the heliocentric universe."
Influenced by Copernican principles was sixteenth-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, on whom Banville based his second historical novel. Kepler conveys the astronomer's attempt to combine a plausible theory of planetary motion with precise mathematical observations, and his discovery that the planets moved in elliptical orbits rather than in circles. Similar in theme to Doctor Copernicus, Kepler focuses on the toil of a scientist struggling against the attitudes of a society that still believed astronomy was a combination of science and magic. Further plagued by illness, failing eyesight, and a shrewish wife, Kepler was nonetheless moved by the prospect of a perfectly ordered universe and pursued the development of his scientific theories.
Kepler earned Banville considerable acclaim on many accounts. "As a historical novelist," stated Paul Taylor in the Times Literary Supplement, "Banville is amazingly adept at evoking the flavour and the feel of the period he is writing about, while as an expositor of the scientific and philosophical ideas of his hero he is admirably fluent and lucid." Taylor continued: "Not the least of the pleasures to be derived from Kepler is the way Banville's tactile, sensuous prose coils itself confidently around everything." Russell McCormmach in the New York Times Book Review echoed this sentiment, observing that the work is "an informed and lively account of an important time and personality by an author of seriousness and talent." He complained, however, that Banville's narrative, which shifts back and forth through three periods of the scientist's life, is confusing and lends little insight into the scientist's work. Tempering this criticism was a reviewer for Newsweek who wrote: "What John Banville … tells us about Kepler is historically accurate, but his is a novelist's, not a biographer's truth, and he writes a lover's, not a scholar's prose. Banville is dramatically selective; he jumps adroitly about in time…. He means us to see not only the beauty of Kepler's discoveries, but the pain his achievement cost." The critic deemed Kepler a "rarity: a historical novel concerned less with battles and pageantry than with the life of the mind, the intellectual atmosphere of an age long past."
Although not a historical novel, Banville's next work, The Newton Letter: An Interlude, takes its premise from the life of the seventeenth-century English philosopher and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton. The present-day story centers on an unnamed narrator, an academic who spends a summer on a country estate in Ireland, where he hopes to finish a book about Newton. The scholar is soon caught up in observing the neighboring Lawless family, on whose property he is staying. He becomes physically involved with the family's niece, Ottilie, but is obsessed with her aunt, Charlotte. Although greatly distracted from his studies, the narrator manages to make a breakthrough when he discovers—via a letter written by Newton—that the scientist's 1693 nervous collapse may have been caused by his fear that the austere truths of science have given way to the copious truths of the commonplace. The narrator unwittingly parallels Newton's disillusionment when, by the end of the story, his glorified preconceptions of the Lawless family are dismantled.
Molly Hite in the New York Times Book Review saw The Newton Letter as a reworking of the theme in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1809 novel, Elective Affinities: "Banville regroups Goethe's characters under a scientific metaphor implying that relativity is a condition of all perception and knowledge." Although Hite enthusiastically judged the work "powerful," general reviewer response to The Newton Letter was mixed. Miranda Seymour, in Spectator, thought that some of Banville's passages are "both acute and evocative" and that the text is "beautifully constructed and written," but she "couldn't help feeling that Mr. Banville was playing too many literary games for the good of his book." Times Literary Supplement reviewer Alan Brownjohn found some "sensitively contrived" passages but felt that it "is a slim book inside which a fatter one is struggling to get out." In overall approval of The Newton Letter, though, was London Review of Books critic Martin Swales, who assessed: "John Banville has written a compassionate and vibrantly intelligent novel." And in her praise of what she called a "highly self-conscious and experimental narrative form," Hite concluded that The Newton Letter is "[Banville's] most impressive work to date."
Mefisto is divided into two parts, and chronicles the life of narrator Gabriel Swan, beginning from the time of his conception. In "Marionettes," the story's first section, Gabriel tells of his lonely childhood and of his obsessive search for order through the pursuit of mathematics. "Angels," the book's second part, further depicts Gabriel's quest for harmony, even though obstructed by the evil influences of Felix, a satanic figure whom Gabriel believes may be his deceased twin brother. Containing what Barbara Hardy of Books and Bookmen called "mythy doves, swans, devils, angels and puppets [animated] by shame, disgust, horror, fear, lust, [and] aspirant desire," Mefisto exhibits the strong influence of renowned Irish authors William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett.
Like Banville's other works, Mefisto was seen by most reviewers as a novel of extreme seriousness. "It is … a writer's rather than a reader's book," wrote Kelly in the Irish Literary Supplement. "That is to say, we cannot expect to understand or even like it at first reading…. His books are written not to be enjoyed but to be endured. Idlers be warned." Entirely enthusiastic about Mefisto was Hardy, who called the book a "dazzlingly individual new novel." The reviewer thought the work "bizarrely innovative" and, though recognizing the obvious influence of Joyce and Beckett, pointed out, "Banville's weird world is all his own." Patricia Craig in the Times Literary Supplement acknowledged the book's dense symbolic imagery and complex narrative form, and she wrote, "None of this is irritating; the author's strength of purpose and ingenuity keep us engrossed." Relating sentiments common to Banville's admirers, Craig concluded: "Banville … shapes his material in unprecedented ways, and enshrines his extended metaphors, his unsettling evocations and moments of ordinariness in resonant and lucid prose."
The Book of Evidence is a murder mystery that was shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize in fiction. It took the Guinness Peat Aviation Award, where Graham Greene was the judge, and was the first of Banville's books to achieve a measure of commercial success. Part of its appeal was due to similarities with an actual unsolved case of art thievery and murder in Britain. Furthermore, as Europe contributor Joe Carroll explained: "The murders even had political fall-out when the murderer was eventually tracked down to the apartment of the then attorney general. He was forced, as a result, to resign his post although he had no idea that the man whom he regarded as a friend was the prime suspect." The novel focuses on Banville's newest antihero, Freddie Montgomery, who abandons his wife on a Mediterranean island and returns home to England. A former scientist from an affluent background, the unambitious and unhappy Montgomery is obsessed with a painting by seventeenth-century Dutch artist Jan Vermeer that belongs to friend of his family's. He engineers its theft, but his poorly-planned crime is foiled by a maid at the house, and so he murders her. The act of murder sickens him, and he abandons the painting in a ditch shortly afterward. Montgomery recounts this "book of evidence" from his jail cell while awaiting trial, but once again, Banville leads the reader to question the veracity of the tale. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found it "both terrifying and moving," and compared its "extraordinary psychological penetration" to two famed works of fictional malevolence, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and The Stranger, by Albert Camus.
The novel Ghosts seems to pick up the thread of Montgomery's life after a ten-year period. Released from prison, he lives on a sparsely populated island where he works as the assistant to a renowned art historian. A shipwreck brings seven survivors to the island; one of them, the menacing Felix, seems to know the scholar already. Some of the male characters are obsessed with Flora, a beautiful but delicate shipwreck survivor. Wendy Lesser, writing in the New York Times Book Review, compared it to "a Peter Greenaway film: the visual elements are entrancing, the mystery plot is intricate and obscure, and the characters are all faintly (sometimes aggressively) threatening oddballs." As the unnamed narrator recounts events and observations, the reader wonders whether the shipwreck was truly an accident, or if the survivors are actually there at all. "Once again, we are treated to long, lyrical and sometimes terrifying disquisitions on the existential dilemmas of life," wrote Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. "Once again, we are given a glimpse inside a man's haunted, chilly soul."
Ghosts, as some of its reviewers noted, is filled with literary allusions, from Homer's Odyssey to the nineteenth-century French poetry of Charles Baudelaire. But Kakutani felt that though the work was initially engaging, "all the allusions to other books, all the echo-chamber effects that are meant to build up an atmosphere of significance never add up to anything that's palpable or real." Conversely, Brian Evenson, writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, found that this ethereal quality lends the novel much of its appeal. He noted that Banville's cast seems to be inhabiting "a sea of dreams. Their interactions remain mysterious and incomplete, but at the same time ethereal and lyrical." Evenson commended the author's skill and subtlety: "He allows the story to form according to the language itself, until story and language seem inextricably bound in an eerie harmony."
Other reviewers offered similar praise for Banville's style. As Lesser observed: "The achievement of ‘Ghosts’ is to use words as brushstrokes, to create in language an artwork that has all the appeal of a complex painting." She added: "Our eye roves over it and back again, not in linear, chronological order but in a state of suspended time, picking up new details and drawing new conclusions with each concentrated gaze." New Republic critic Marc Robinson described Banville's sentences as "voluptuous sequences of color and texture, exquisitely balanced constructions of external description and internal meditation." The critic concluded that "Ghosts is here and not here; achingly beautiful, momentarily transporting and gone."
Athena is the third entry in Banville's "Freddie Montgomery" trilogy. It was deemed by Review of Contemporary Fiction writer Irving Malin to be "surely one of the most fascinating texts written in the last few years." Its narrator is a man named Morrow, who may be the Freddie Montgomery of the earlier The Book of Evidence. Morrow appears to be an art critic and expert on seventeenth-century painting. He has taken a job cataloguing stolen works at a manor house somewhere in Dublin. It appears to be the same estate as the one in Book of Evidence, where Montgomery's theft was committed. While there, he meets a woman, "A.," who becomes his lover and then disappears. A police inspector enters the plot, questioning Morrow about the unsolved art thefts. World Literature Today critic Thomas M. Smyth commended the author's "breathtaking use of language," and noted that "most of the action occurs outside the presence of the protagonist, from whose point of view the entire novel is told. The growing sense of events unfolding beyond the protagonist's control creates a dense atmosphere of intrigue and vague menace."
In the end, true to Banville style, nothing is as it appears in Athena, and the paintings Morrow is cataloguing turn out to be forgeries. Moreover, the mysterious Athena reveals herself to be not at all the persona that the reader might surmise. "Although Banville offers a truly shocking revelation of Athena on the last page," wrote Malin, "he leaves open the possibility that the revelation, the ‘evidence’ of Athena, is psychotic." Michael Gorra, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed that as a novel, Athena possesses two irresistible themes—murder and sex: "Banville's particular genius is to bleed this promising material dry, draining it of suspense; reading him, you never taste the stomach-turning urge to know what's going to happen…. Plot counts for nothing here, or seems not to, and mood becomes all—a mood sustained by a prose of idiosyncratic and appalling charm."
Banville drew upon another real-life event for his 1997 novel, The Untouchable. Its protagonist is Victor Maskell, an aging Anglo-Irish art historian of some renown, whose career and reputation are shattered when his government reveals that Maskell was a double agent who spied for the Russians while ostensibly working for British intelligence operations decades before. Banville based the character on Sir Anthony Blunt, an art historian whose earlier traitorous acts were revealed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Blunt was never prosecuted, but was stripped of knighthood and died in 1983. He was part of a quartet of prominent, well-born young men who had met at Cambridge University in the 1930s and found common cause in their leftist politics. They ostensibly renounced these beliefs when they went to work for the British intelligence service, but later revelations showed that the men had served as double agents for years.
In The Untouchable, the fictional Maskell recalls his life to a biographer. Maskell, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, emerges as "elusive, cunning, cynical and surprisingly sentimental by turns." Maskell is duplicitous in all aspects of his life: he is married but gay, and harbors a longstanding passion for his wife's younger brother, Nick, who is straight and therefore "untouchable." The title also describes the aging Maskell's sudden fall to pariah status—and also the accident of his birth into a well-connected family that makes him immune to prosecution. Maskell is unrepentant, and fumes against what he terms a "nation of traitors, who daily betray friends, wives, children, tax inspectors." He recounts his acclaimed career, which gave him the honor of "Keeper of the Queen's Pictures," and in between recollections of the reigning monarch, whom he calls "Mrs. W.," he remembers the double life he led as a gay man in Britain during a time when homosexual acts there were still illegal. New Leader reviewer Brooke Allen described Banville's protagonist as "a man not completely devoid of gentler feelings but blighted by a fatal chilliness," and called the work "a triumph of construction and fine writing. Banville's use of the English language is masterful, and from that perspective the novel is a pleasure to read." Other reviews also praised the latest Banville antihero. The Untouchable, noted World Literature Today writer Peter Bien, "gives us a fully realized central character (plus a dozen engaging secondary players). It does this brilliantly in the language sometimes of angels, sometimes of pimps."
Eclipse was described by Allen in the New Leader as "a novel about the limits of ego." It centers on the disintegration of the life of one Alexander Cleave, a celebrated Shakespearean actor who admits that his lifelong self-absorption has fueled his success on the stage. But he finds himself suddenly feeling anxious, and one night forgets his lines completely and is forced to leave the tour in disgrace. He returns to his childhood home, an old place in a seaside town, in part to avoid his wife, Lydia. "Stranded in a past that has no use for him, he is plagued by delusion and suspended in a state of ‘transcendent tipsiness,’ an alienation that renders him both pitiful and monstrous," wrote Guardian reviewer Alex Clark. "Banville's flighted prose, in which atmosphere is evoked through a dripfeed of lyricism, is superbly suited to his subject matter; his willed patience and defiant wordiness resonate with an almost unbearable sense of claustrophobia and the lurid excess of breakdown."
At the house, Cleave experiences ghostly recollections of an unpleasant childhood, but forms a strange bond with the house's caretaker, Quirke, and his slatternly teenage daughter, Lily. Cleave's own relationship with his daughter is troubled, and he maintains that Cass suffers from profound manic depression: "Everything that happens, she is convinced, carries a specific and personal reference to her. There is nothing, not a turn in the weather, or a chance word spoken in the street, that does not covertly pass on to her some profound message of warning or encouragement." In typical Banville style, Cass is revealed to be not the pathetic, disturbed woman that her father depicts, but a highly regarded historian. There is little action in Eclipse, but something does occur off the page that brings Cleave back. "Cleave is so self-involved that he only sees and describes the natural phenomena that reflect his own mental state," wrote Allen in the New Leader. "The result is an echoic, claustrophobic prose in which the reader is given moments of intense observation, but in the most limited, pointed doses. We enter into Cleave's self-referential world and take our part in its narrow vision, its unfocused grief." Times Literary Supplement Christopher Tayler found that Eclipse offered "a warmer and more personal feel than any of Banville's previous novels…. Some readers—including this one—might prefer the more sinister earlier novels; but even a smaller-scale work like this makes it clear that among serious contemporary novelists, Banville has very few rivals."
Banville continues to be the subject of intense critical scrutiny for his complex, densely wrought novels in which nothing, it seems, is certain. "I've always been interested in the relationship between the reader and the text," Banville told Susannah Hunnewell in the New York Times Book Review. "The reader believes absolutely in the reality he's reading about, while at the same time knowing that it's fiction—in other words, very well-wrought, convoluted lies."
Banville's novel Shroud borrows a character from Eclipse. Here, the mentally unstable Cass Cleave is blackmailing Axel Vandel, a Belgian refugee from the Nazis. Finding a position as a literature professor at a California university, Vandel created a new life for himself. Now, long after the fact, and widowed, Vandel is contacted by Cleave, as she has discovered that he has taken the identity of another, in this "painful, exhausting, brilliantly written novel," as Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson described it. Similar praise came from Library Journal contributor Colleen Lougen, who noted that Banville "deftly wraps the reader in his dense and velvety prose, providing a satisfying reading experience." A higher assessment came from a Publishers Weekly contributor who concluded: "This bravura performance will stand as one of Banville's best works."
Winner of the Man Booker Prize, Banville's 2006 novel, The Sea, features another older man in search of new meaning. After losing his wife to cancer, art historian Max decides to return to the seaside town where he spent many summers and where he came under the thrall of the upper-class Grace family. During one special summer, Max fell under the spell, successively, of Mrs. Grace and then her daughter, Chloe. But that time was also one of tragedy, and it is by sifting through these old memories that Max is able to put some meaning on his present life. The Sea won high praise from critics. Booklist contributor Brad Hooper found it a "splendidly profound and beautifully written novel." A New Yorker reviewer lauded "Banville's technique [that] generates a kind of supercharged sparseness, forcefully conveying the narrator's anguish." Similarly, a contributor for the Economist noted: "Banville's style affords the reader a voluptuous, unfashionable pleasure that grows with every re-reading of the book and casts the story with ease into second place." Further praise came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who wrote that "this novel sweeps the reader into the inexorable waxing and waning of life." Frank Wilson, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, also commended Banville's novel, calling it a "a winning work of art."
Banville surprised critics with the novel he wrote after receiving the Man Booker Prize. Writing as Benjamin Black and influenced by the work of Georges Simenon, he published Christine Falls, a hard-boiled mystery set in 1950s Dublin. The initial book of a crime series featuring a pathologist named Quirke, Christine Falls finds Quirke unraveling the cause of death of this eponymous female victim. He is spurred into action by an obviously incorrect statement of the cause of death offered by Malachy Griffin, a prominent obstetrician and relation of the family that raised Quirke as an orphan. Quirke's subsequent investigation takes him beyond Dublin and into the highest reaches of upper-class society. Booklist contributor Thomas Gaughan found this novel "deeply atmospheric" as well as "complex and deeply ruminative." Christine Perkins, writing in Library Journal, also had praise for the novel, terming it a "solid, dark tale." Similarly, for a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Christine Falls was an "expertly paced debut thriller," while New York Times critic Janet Maslin called it a "swirling, elegant noir." And writing in the Guardian, mystery novelist Michael Dibdin found the same work "a compelling novel set in the redolent, boozy, dank, stifling Dublin of the 1950s."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 46, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Book, March, 2001, Don McLeese, review of Eclipse, p. 80.
Booklist, May 15, 1995, Deanna Larson, review of Athena, p. 1630; April 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of The Untouchable, p. 1389; February 1, 2001, Frank Caso, review of Eclipse, p. 1039; March 1, 2003, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Shroud, p. 1145; February 15, 2004, David Pitt, review of Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City, p. 1020; November 15, 2005, Brad Hooper, review of The Sea, p. 6; December 1, 2006, Thomas Gaughan, review of Christine Falls, p. 24; February 1, 2008, Donna Seaman, review of The Silver Swan, p. 32.
Books & Culture, March 1, 2006, "So Wide and Deep," p. 29.
Bookseller, March 10, 2006, "Hughes Done It: Author John Banville, Kate Thompson, Hughes & Hughes Chief Executive Derek Hughes, and Brian Dillon Celebrate the Inaugural Irish Book Awards Run by Hughes and Hughes," p. 7.
Boston Globe, March 12, 2007, Chuck Leddy, review of Christine Falls.
Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2008, review of The Silver Swan, p. 14.
Contemporary Literature, fall, 1997, Tony E. Jackson, "Science, Art, and the Shipwreck of Knowledge," p. 510.
Economist, October 15, 2005, review of The Sea.
Esquire, January, 2001, Sven Birkerts, "The Last Undiscovered Genius," p. 50.
Europe, April, 1995, Joe Carroll, "John Banville," p. 39.
Financial Times, November 24, 2007, James Urquhart, review of The Silver Swan, p. 51.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 25, 2006, "Undercurrents in ‘The Sea’ Will Pull You In"; April 11, 2007, review of Christine Falls.
Guardian, September 16, 2000, Alex Clark, "Giving up the Ghosts"; October 7, 2006, Michael Dibdin, "Dark Deeds in Dublin."
Hollywood Reporter, October 11, 2005, "‘Sea’ Fee," p. 6.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2003, review of Shroud, p. 101.
Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Untouchable, p. 116; February 1, 2001, Heather McCormack, review of Eclipse, p. 124; March 15, 2003, Colleen Lougen, review of Shroud, p. 113; March 1, 2004, Linda M. Kaufmann, review of Prague Pictures, p. 94; November 15, 2005, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Sea, p. 60; December 1, 2006, review of Christine Falls, p. 99.
National Interest, winter, 1997, Midge Decter, review of The Untouchable, p. 91.
National Post, March 8, 2008, Charles Foran, review of The Silver Swan, p. 13.
New Leader, December 27, 1993, Walter Goodman, review of Ghosts, p. 30; July 14, 1997, Brooke Allen, review of The Untouchable, p. 16; January, 2001, Brooke Allen, review of Eclipse, p. 29.
New Republic, February 21, 1994, Marc Robinson, review of Ghosts, p. 39.
New Statesman, January 30, 1970; November 26, 1976; April 16, 1993, Shaun Whiteside, review of Ghosts, p. 41; February 17, 1995, Philip MacCann, review of Athena, p. 38; October 9, 2000, James Hopkins, "Cleaved Apart," p. 53.
New Yorker, November 14, 2005, review of The Sea, p. 95.
New York Times, December 7, 1993, Michiko Kakutani, "Allusions and Illusions, Mirrors within Mirrors"; May 9, 1995, Richard Bernstein, "Art and Murder in the Hall of Mirrors"; March 1, 2007, Janet Maslin, review of Christine Falls.
New York Times Book Review, November 28, 1993, Wendy Lesser, "Violently Obsessed with Art," p. 33; May 21, 1995, Michael Gorra, "Irish Baroque," p. 15; March 25, 2007, Kathryn Harrison, "The Mysteries of the Dead."
People, July 21, 1997, J.D. Reed, review of The Untouchable, p. 32.
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 30, 2005, Frank Wilson, "‘The Sea’ Is a Gem of the Ocean."
Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Book of Evidence, p. 44; August 23, 1993, review of Ghosts, p. 57; April 3, 1995, review of Athena, p. 45; April 14, 1997, review of The Untouchable, p. 52; December 18, 2000, review of Eclipse, p. 54; January 27, 2003, review of Shroud, p. 235; November 7, 2005, review of The Sea, p. 54; November 7, 2005, "Who Is John Banville?," p. 54; January 15, 2007, review of Christine Falls, p. 32; January 22, 2007, "PW Talks with Benjamin Black: When Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling," p. 166; January 7, 2008, review of The Silver Swan, p. 36.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1994, Brian Evenson, review of Ghosts, p. 206; spring, 1997, Irving Malin, review of Athena, p. 179; summer, 2001, Irving Malin, review of Eclipse, p. 170.
Sewanee Review, spring, 1998, John Rees Moore, "Life and Death, Ghosts and Spies," pp. 317-329.
Southern Review, winter, 1998, Randall Curb, review of The Untouchable, p. 76.
Swiss News, December 1, 2005, "John Banville: The Sea," p. 45.
Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia), November 14, 2006, Sue Turnbull, review of Christine Falls.
Telegraph (London, England), May 6, 2005, review of The Sea.
Times (London, England), June 12, 2005, David Grylls, review of The Sea.
Times Literary Supplement, September 29, 2000, Christopher Tayler, "The Circus Comes to Town," p. 23.
USA Today, November 7, 2005, Deirdre Donahue, review of The Sea.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1998, Mark Saunders, review of The Untouchable, pp. 751-759.
Washington Post, April 2, 2007, Patrick Anderson, review of Christine Falls, p. C3.
World Literature Today, summer, 1994, Thomas M. Smyth, review of Ghosts, p. 567; fall, 1996, Thomas M. Smyth, review of Athena, p. 958; winter, 1998, Peter Bien, review of The Untouchable, p. 131.
World of Hibernia, autumn, 2000, Eileen Battersby, review of Eclipse, p. 16.
British Council Web site,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (July 27, 2007), "John Banville."
Edinburgh Scotsman,http://living.scotsman.com/ (October 21, 2006), Tom Adair, "Meet the Other Half."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (July 27, 2007), "John Banville."
Man Booker Prize Web site,http://www.themanbookerprize.com/ (July 27, 2007), "The 2005 Winner, The Sea by John Banville."
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (March 23, 2007), Frank Wilson, review of Christine Falls.
Three Monkeys Online,http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/ (July 27, 2007), Shane Berry, "As Clear as Mirror Glass: John Banville in Interview."