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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 JohnBanville’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 ...

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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... 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 JohnBanville’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 ...


Michael Irwin

19 February 1981
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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... A reviewer must allow for his personal reading temperament, his instinctive critical preferences and dislikes. JohnBanville 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 ...

Untitled (51)

Robin Robertson

3 November 2005
... for JohnBanville Hello Hello Hello Hellowhat 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 ...

A whole lot of faking

Valentine Cunningham

22 April 1993
by John Banville.
Secker, 245 pp., £14.99, April 1993, 0 436 19991 2
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... 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 it’s a question, as ever with JohnBanville, 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 ...

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 JohnBanville’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 ...

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 ...

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 JohnBanville’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 ...

Aestheticise, Aestheticise

Benjamin Markovits: ‘Shroud’

2 January 2003
by John Banville.
Picador, 408 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 330 48315 3
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... JohnBanville’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 ...


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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... of that process, in full awareness of the ambiguity of the verb ‘to forge’. As Norman Mailer 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 ...

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. Throughout his career ...

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 ...

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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... novel, the danger is that he will yield to the temptation to make it literary – either because habits are hard to break, or because he thinks he can write a thriller that is also a work of art. JohnBanville, 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 ...

My Own Ghost

Adam Phillips: John Banville’s Great Unanswerables

4 August 2005
The Sea 
by John Banville.
Picador, 264 pp., £16.99, June 2005, 0 330 48328 5
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... place, that we might have the wrong picture of how suffering turns into words. Writers don’t suffer with ideas, they suffer in style. ‘Everything,’ writes Axel Vander, the sly hero-narrator of JohnBanville’s Shroud, ‘has to be qualified.’ And style is the way the writer qualifies himself, or whatever it is he feels is in need of qualification. The question Banville has always asked in ...

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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... as later nationalist piety would insist. It is startling to read, in Charles Townshend’s fine study, 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 ...

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