John Banville

John Banville’s latest novel is The Blue Guitar.

Fama​ is a fickle goddess. In the early decades of the 20th century the French philosopher Henri Bergson was a worldwide celebrity, ranked as a thinker alongside Plato, Socrates, Descartes and Kant. William James thought Bergson’s work had wrought a Copernican revolution in philosophy. Lord Balfour read him with great care and attention; Teddy Roosevelt went so far as to write an...

Moral Lepers: Easter 1916

John Banville, 16 July 2015

The Irish Rising​ of 1916 would almost certainly have failed, like the many previous rebellions in Irish history, had not the British authorities, already knee-deep in the quagmire of the Great War, made the grave miscalculation of executing 16 of the rebel leaders, thus granting them the martyrdom that many of them had sought. Indeed, even the victims of that ‘blood sacrifice’,...

Z/R: Exit Zuckerman

John Banville, 4 October 2007

A large part of the reason for the continuing democratic vigour of the American novel is that the great wave of Modernism was no more than a ripple by the time it reached New England’s shores. American writers simply did not have the time or energy to spare for all that self-scrutiny and existential doubt, that Eliotian difficulty. There was a job to be done, in that the young nation...

All Antennae: Olympic-Standard Depravity

John Banville, 18 February 1999

Arthur Koestler was a journalist with pretensions to grandeur. Certain of his works justified these pretensions – for example, his masterpiece, the novel Darkness at Noon, and the two autobiographical volumes, Arrow in thf Blue and The Invisible Writing – though not so triumphantly as he would have wished them to do or as, in his more confident moments, he believed they had. Throughout his career he suffered from the journalist’s fear of being merely clever, merely shrewd, merely in the know, incapable of the soaring inspiration, or, indeed, the inspired wrong-headedness, of the great artist or the great scientist. His was the classic 20th-century Mitteleuropean sensibility: deracinated, sophisticated, ambitious, self-doubting, hungry for experience, politically engaged, and racked by despair. Born into the comfortable if emotionally suffocating world of the Austro-Hungarian Jewish bourgeoisie, he saw the world of his childhood destroyed, and was never again able to find a place in which to belong. As David Cesarani puts it in the closing lines of this monumental (it is the only word) biography, for Koestler ‘home represented the secure bourgeois domesticity swept away by the Great War; home was a country that rejected him and connived in the slaughter of his family; home was a community united by a history, tradition, creed and culture that he despised.’ The biographer’s last word on the subject is a kind of syllogism: ‘Home finally was mind; home was homelessness; Koestler was the homeless mind.’’‘

International Tale

John Banville, 30 March 1989

At the very start of this brief fiction the author blazons the name of his heroine – Clara Velde – like a declaration of intent. Bellow always opens bravely, plunging his readers into the midst of things, and if the bravery sometimes strikes us as mere bravado (as for example, with Augie March’s ‘I am an American …’), the headlong stride of the style, its weight and energy, sweep us forward unresisting. Here, however, the clarion call of Ms Velde’s name gives pause. It is very American, yet it is not quite contemporary. We seem to hear in it an echo of an earlier New York scene, of the jewelled and grandly brocaded America of the late 19th century. In short, the reigning spirit here might be that of Henry James.’

The Fantastic Fact: John Banville

Michael Wood, 4 January 2018

A rich​ old American in John Banville’s new novel makes an amused distinction between money and small change. Asked what money is, he just laughs. This is not malevolent laughter but...

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Belfryful of Bells: John Banville

Theo Tait, 19 November 2015

‘Have​ I said that before?’ the narrator of The Blue Guitar asks towards the end of the novel. ‘Nowadays it all feels like repetition.’ At this point in John...

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Adam to Zeus: John Banville

Colin Burrow, 11 March 2010

There’s a revealing slip near the start of John Banville’s new novel. Ursula Godley, whose husband lies dying upstairs, reflects on her son and daughter: ‘These are the...

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‘Just as the pearl is the oyster’s affliction,’ Flaubert wrote in a letter in 1852, ‘so style is perhaps the discharge from a deeper wound.’ It is an arresting...

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Aestheticise, Aestheticise: ‘Shroud’

Benjamin Markovits, 2 January 2003

John Banville’s heroes seem to be in search of a centre or subject for their ruminations. Ghosts pester them; voices ring in their ears. Something vital has gone wrong and they must take...

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Frank Kermode, 5 June 1997

This ought to be a good novel, for it is by a good writer and deals intelligently with a bit of British history that continues to interest us. And it certainly gives pleasure; so it seems a shade...

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A whole lot of faking

Valentine Cunningham, 22 April 1993

‘The philosopher asks: Can the style of an evil man have any unity?’ It’s a wonderfully sharp question, marrying morals to aesthetics in a challenging new-old fashion. And...

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Interesting Fellows

Walter Nash, 4 May 1989

Take one housemaid, who interrupts you while you are making a ludicrously maladroit attempt to swaddle a stolen painting in brown paper. Fly into a sulk. Bundle the poor girl into your car, and...

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Liza Jarrett’s Hard Life

Paul Driver, 4 December 1986

Of the five new novels grouped here, only one, I think, breathes something of that ‘air of reality (solidity of specification)’ which seemed to Henry James ‘the supreme virtue...

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Creative Affinities

Martin Swales, 15 July 1982

The unnamed narrator of John Banville’s novel is an academic who spends the summer on a run-down country estate in Ireland where he hopes to put the finishing touches to a book on Isaac...

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Michael Irwin, 19 February 1981

A reviewer must allow for his personal reading temperament, his instinctive critical preferences and dislikes. John Banville roused my own antipathies as early as the second page of his novel:...

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