An embarrassment and a deep source of shame

ImagePhoto: Irish Times

John Banville has been honoured with a €50,000 Spanish literary prize, the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature. The judges conferred the award on Banville and on his nom de plume Benjamin Black.

The news has saddened the Irish author, who has said on numerous occasions that his novels are “an embarrassment and a deep source of shame.”

Interviewed in The Paris Review (Spring 2009, No. 188) Banville admitted that when he finishes a novel and reads over the proofs everything “seems hopelessly flat and deadened”, adding: “Fiction is just a constant torment, and an embarrassment. I loathe my fiction.”

Banville now regards the Nobel prize as being “as inevitable as it is inexplicable.”

The author has sought to discourage people from reading his books by adopting similar plot lines (In The Sea, a retired art historian goes to a seaside village and reflects on certain events in his life; in Ancient Light, a narrator in his sixties remembers an affair he had when he was fifteen years old).

This strategy has not met with success. Nor has an attempt to write under a pseudonym.

So, in an effort to fend off further prizes, Banville announced that he has begun work on a new novel, in which a sixty-eight year old literary book reviewer decides, during a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery, to abandon a monograph on Nabokov, and take a train to a wintry Venice, reflecting, as he looks out the window at the passing landscapes, on the day fifty-six years ago, when, unknown to his parents, he absented himself from school and walked the city of Dublin in search of whipped ice-cream.

Banville Questionnaire

  1. What kind of landscapes does John Banville’s prose open up? Dazzling lyrical ones.
  2. How does Banville do this? Through cultural references.
  3. In the work of Banville, what does beauty go hand in hand with? Irony.
  4. What do the complex human beings in Banville’s prose do to us? They ensnare us in their descent into the darkness of baseness.
  5. What else do the complex human beings in Banville’s prose do to us? They ensnare us in their existential fellowship.

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