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International Tale

John Banville, 30 March 1989

A Theft 
by Saul Bellow.
Penguin, 128 pp., £3.95, March 1989, 0 14 011969 8
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... 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 ...

Z/R

John Banville: Exit Zuckerman, 4 October 2007

Exit Ghost 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 292 pp., £16.99, October 2007, 978 0 224 08173 3
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... used vociferously to demand, who will analyse the analysts, if not the artist? Philip Roth, like John Updike, is a survivor from the glory days of the heavyweights, the Hemingways and the Faulkners and the Bellows. His first book, the story collection Goodbye, Columbus, published in 1959, won the National Book Award, a notable achievement for a tyro in his ...

All Antennae

John Banville: Olympic-Standard Depravity, 18 February 1999

Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind 
by David Cesarani.
Heinemann, 646 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 434 11305 0
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... 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 the 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 ...

What do clocks have to do with it?

John Banville: Einstein and Bergson, 13 July 2016

The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time 
by Jimena Canales.
Princeton, 429 pp., £24.95, May 2015, 978 0 691 16534 9
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... 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 article on his work ...

Moral Lepers

John Banville: Easter 1916, 15 July 2015

Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 
by R.F. Foster.
Allen Lane, 433 pp., £10.99, May 2015, 978 0 241 95424 9
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... The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) leader, John O’Leary who, in Yeats’s poem, shared his grave with the corpse of ‘romantic Ireland’, observing that the Brotherhood’s ‘propagandist work was … entirely separatist with practically no reference to Republicanism’. Similarly, and just as ...

Reconstructions

Michael Irwin, 19 February 1981

Kepler 
by John Banville.
Secker, 192 pp., £5.95, January 1981, 0 436 03264 3
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The Daughter 
by Judith Chernaik.
London Magazine Editions, 216 pp., £5.50, January 1981, 9780060107574
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We always treat women too well 
by Raymond Queneau, translated by Barbara Wright.
Calder, 174 pp., £8.95, January 1981, 0 7145 3687 3
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... 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: Kepler, arriving at a Bohemian castle, is greeted by a hump-backed dwarf who pipes, ‘God save you, gentles,’ and to make matters worse has second sight. When Tycho ...

Creative Affinities

Martin Swales, 15 July 1982

The Newton Letter 
by John Banville.
Secker, 82 pp., £5.95, May 1982, 0 436 03265 1
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... 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 Newton. Gradually, his research takes a back seat as he becomes fascinated with the family on whose property he is living ...

Belfryful of Bells

Theo Tait: John Banville, 19 November 2015

The Blue Guitar 
by John Banville.
Viking, 250 pp., £14.99, September 2015, 978 0 241 00432 6
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... asks towards the end of the novel. ‘Nowadays it all feels like repetition.’ At this point in John Banville’s distinguished career it’s hard to ignore a sense that old ground is being worked over, again and again. It’s a safe bet that a new Banville novel will feature a male narrator, in late middle ...

Untitled (51)

Robin Robertson, 3 November 2005

... for John Banville Hello Hello Hello Hello what shall we do today? Hello Today. They come in procession: clown, princess, scarecrow, ghost, a drift of the overgrown: women in their institutional white socks and black shoes, winter coats over nighties, sheets, sack-dresses, party hats, paper-bag masks with eye-holes and straw, hard plastic masks with white elastic: cat, devil, crone ...

A whole lot of faking

Valentine Cunningham, 22 April 1993

Ghosts 
by John Banville.
Secker, 245 pp., £14.99, April 1993, 0 436 19991 2
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... morals to aesthetics in a challenging new-old fashion. And it’s a question, as ever with John Banville, within other questions. Who, for instance, you’re made to wonder at this point in Ghosts, is actually asking? Some anonymous narrator? The author? The novel’s own enigmatic ‘evil man’, the one who does so much of its telling and, it ...

Adam to Zeus

Colin Burrow: John Banville, 11 March 2010

The Infinities 
by John Banville.
Picador, 300 pp., £7.99, March 2010, 978 0 330 45025 6
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... 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 creatures she carried inside her and gave birth to and fed from her own breast, phoenix-like.’ A phoenix can never feed its young because there is only ever one of it at a time ...

The Fantastic Fact

Michael Wood: John Banville, 4 January 2018

Mrs Osmond 
by John Banville.
Viking, 376 pp., £14.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 26017 3
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... 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 he does do a dangerous thing with his money. He leaves a lot of it, when he dies, to a young American niece. She is grateful, of course, and the money enhances her freedom – at first ...

Aestheticise, Aestheticise

Benjamin Markovits: ‘Shroud’, 2 January 2003

Shroud 
by John Banville.
Picador, 408 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 330 48315 3
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... 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 account of it. ‘I have the feeling,’ Alex Cleave declared in Banville’s last book, Eclipse, ‘the conviction, I can’t rid myself of it, that something has happened, something dreadful, and I haven’t taken sufficient notice, haven’t paid due regard, because I don’t know what it is ...

Interesting Fellows

Walter Nash, 4 May 1989

The Book of Evidence 
by John Banville.
Secker, 220 pp., £10.95, March 1989, 0 436 03267 8
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Carn 
by Patrick McCabe.
Aidan Ellis, 252 pp., £11.50, March 1989, 0 85628 180 8
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The Tryst 
by Michael Dibdin.
Faber, 168 pp., £10.99, April 1989, 0 571 15450 6
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Gerontius 
by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Macmillan, 264 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 333 45194 5
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... me. I might be tempted to use words like ‘psychotic’, or ‘psychopath’, but your creator, John Banville, would understandably resent these catch-all categories, as restrictions on the subtlety, the complexity, the truth of his creation. If it is possible to get at the truth of this elaborately inventive tale. The elaboration is in the incidental ...

Prosecco Notwithstanding

Tobias Gregory: 21st-Century Noir, 3 July 2008

The Lemur 
by Benjamin Black.
Picador US, 144 pp., $13, June 2008, 978 0 312 42808 2
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... habits are hard to break, or because he thinks he can write a thriller that is also a work of art. John Banville, to his credit, understands that crime fiction is only crime fiction. The Lemur, his third book under the pen name Benjamin Black, is a slim, efficient novel, elegantly done as such things go, in which literary pretensions are largely resisted ...

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