Amazon.com Review A brilliant, engaging, and highly literate espionage-cum-existential novel, John Banville's The Untouchable concerns the suddenly-exposed double agent Victor Maskell, a character based on the real Cambridge intellectual elites who famously spied on the United Kingdom in the middle of the 20th century. But Maskell--scholar, adventurer, soldier, art curator, and more--respected and still living in England well past his retirement from espionage, looked like he was going to get away with it when suddenly, in his 70s and sick with cancer, he is unmasked. The question of why, and by whom is not as important for Maskell as the larger question of who finally he himself really is, why he spied in the first place, and whether his many-faceted existence adds up to an authentic life. From Library Journal The author of such exemplary works as Athena (LJ 5/1/95), Irishman Banville here takes on the juicy challenge of writing a spy novel and handles the assignment with far more grace and intelligence than even the best of that genre's authors. Double-agent Victor Maskell wakes up one morning to discover that after years of informing on London for Moscow, someone has informed on him. To sort out what has happened, he begins a journal. What follows is the richly detailed account of a man who clearly had convictions but whose behavior remains an enigma throughout. As he recalls his Irish childhood, complete with pastor father, beloved stepmother, and retarded brother; his emotional entanglements with careless golden boy Nick and his sister, Baby, whom Victor quite oddly marries long before he realizes that he is gay; and his relations with a slew of hedonistic, upper-class Englishmen too incisively characterized to be mere types, Victor remains subtle, crusty, and tantalizingly out of reach. His story is so well told that why he spied?and who betrayed him?become secondary. Highly recommended. -?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Publishers Weekly Alex Vander is a fraud, big-time. An elderly professor of literature and a scholarly writer with an international reputation, he has neither the education nor the petit bourgeois family in Antwerp that he has claimed. As the splenetic narrator of this searching novel by Banville (Eclipse), he admits early on that he has lied about everything in his life, including his identity, which he stole from a friend of his youth whose mysterious death will resonate as the narrator reflects on his past. Having fled Belgium during WWII, he established himself in Arcady, Calif., with his long-suffering wife, whose recent death has unleashed new waves of guilt in the curmudgeonly old man. Guilt and fear have long since turned Vander into a monster of rudeness, violent temper, ugly excess, alcoholism and self-destructiveness. His web of falsehoods has become an anguishing burden, and his sense of displacement ("I am myself and also someone else") threatens to unhinge him altogether. Then comes a letter from a young woman, Cass Cleave, who claims to know all the secrets of his past. Determined to destroy her, an infuriated Vander meets Cass in Turin and discovers she is slightly mad. Even so, he begins to hope that Cass, his nemesis, could be the instrument of his redemption. Banville's lyrical prose, taut with intelligence, explores the issues of identity and morality with which the novel reverberates. At the end, Vander understands that some people in his life had noble motives for keeping secrets, and their sacrifices make the enormity of his deception even more shameful. This bravura performance will stand as one of Banville's best works. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. From Library Journal A scholar and born liar, the elderly but still contentious Axel Vander is about to have his cover blown when an equally contentious young woman enters his life. Banville's lucky 13th novel. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Amazon.com Review Incandescent prose. Beautifully textured characterisation. Transparent narratives. The adjectives to describe the writing of John Banville are all affirmative, and The Sea is a ringing affirmation of all his best qualities. His publishers are claiming that this novel by the Booker-shortlisted author is his finest yet, and while that claim may have an element of hyperbole, there is no denying that this perfectly balanced book is among the writer’s most accomplished work. Max Morden has reached a crossroads in his life, and is trying hard to deal with several disturbing things. A recent loss is still taking its toll on him, and a trauma in his past is similarly proving hard to deal with. He decides that he will return to a town on the coast at which he spent a memorable holiday when a boy. His memory of that time devolves on the charismatic Grace family, particularly the seductive twins Myles and Chloe. In a very short time, Max found himself drawn into a strange relationship with them, and pursuant events left their mark on him for the rest of his life. But will he be able to exorcise those memories of the past? The fashion in which John Banville draws the reader into this hypnotic and disturbing world is non pareil, and the very complex relationships between his brilliantly delineated cast of characters are orchestrated with a master’s skill. As in such books as Shroud and The Book of Evidence, the author eschews the obvious at all times, and the narrative is delivered with subtlety and understatement. The genuine moments of drama, when they do occur, are commensurately more powerful. --_Barry Forshaw_ From Publishers Weekly Banville's magnificent new novel, which won this year's Man Booker Prize and is being rushed into print by Knopf, presents a man mourning his wife's recent death—and his blighted life. "The past beats inside me like a second heart," observes Max Morden early on, and his return to the seaside resort where he lost his innocence gradually yields the objects of his nostalgia. Max's thoughts glide swiftly between the events of his wife's final illness and the formative summer, 50 years past, when the Grace family—father, mother and twins Chloe and Myles—lived in a villa in the seaside town where Max and his quarreling parents rented a dismal "chalet." Banville seamlessly juxtaposes Max's youth and age, and each scene is rendered with the intense visual acuity of a photograph ("the mud shone blue as a new bruise"). As in all Banville novels, things are not what they seem. Max's cruelly capricious complicity in the sad history that unfolds, and the facts kept hidden from the reader until the shocking denouement, brilliantly dramatize the unpredictability of life and the incomprehensibility of death. Like the strange high tide that figures into Max's visions and remembrances, this novel sweeps the reader into the inexorable waxing and waning of life. (Nov. 8) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Prague is the magic capital of Europe. Since the days of Emperor Rudolf II, 'devotee of the stars and cultivator of the spagyric art', who in the late 1500s summoned alchemists and magicians from all over the world to his castle on Hradcany hill, it has been a place of mystery and intrigue. Wars, revolutions, floods, the imposition of Soviet communism, or even the depredations of the tourist boom after the 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989, could not destroy the unique atmosphere of this beautiful, proud and melancholy city on the Vltava. John Banville traces Prague's often tragic history and portrays the people who made it, the emperors and princes, geniuses and charlatans, heroes and scoundrels, and paints a portrait of the Prague of today, revelling in its newfound freedoms, eager to join the European Community and at the same time suspicious of what many Praguers see as yet another totalitarian takeover. He writes of his first visit to the city, in the depths of the Cold War, when he engaged in a spot of art smuggling, and of subsequent trips there, of the people he met, the friends he made, the places he came to know.
The title of Banville's first novel, Nightspawn (1971), involves a pun: "night spawn," "night's pawn," and "knight's pawn," heralding the ludic nature of the whole book. Nightspawn plays with literary conventions in order to show their exhaustive nature. It is an inside-out novel, one of the very few metanovels to have come out of Ireland. Ben White tells of a coup d'etat in Greece and his embroilment therein. White is a writer and he succeeds in working his account into a gripping thriller. But Nightspawn is anything but a straitlaced thriller; it is a parody of the narrative genre. Most scenes end in farce. Behind all the parodying, the playful turning upside-down of conventions and self-reflexive commenting, there lies a most serious intention: the age-old desire of the artist to express the things in their essence, to transfix beauty and truth. Like Beckett's narrators, White permanently urges himself on 'to express it all.' But he fails, is bound to fail, because every artist must necessarily fail in this respect, beauty and truth defying efforts. 'They took everything from me. Everything.' So says the central character of Nightspawn, John Banville's elusive, first novel, in which the author rehearses now familiar attributes: his humour, ironies, and brilliant knowing. In the arid setting of the Aegean, Ben White indulges in an obsessive quest: to assemble his 'story' and to untangle his relationships with a cast of improbable figures. Banville's subversive, Beckettian fiction embraces themes of freedom and betrayal, and toys with an implausible plot, the stuff of an ordinary 'thriller' shadowed by political intrigue. In this elaborate artifact, Banville's characters 'sometimes lose the meaning of things, and everything is just . . . funny.' There begins their search for 'the magic to combat any force'.
A historian, trying to finish a long-overdue book on Isaac Newton, rent a cottage not far by train from Dublin for the summer. All he need, he thinks, is a few weeks of concentrated work. Why, he must unravel, did Newton break down in 1693? What possessed him to write that strange letter to his friend John Locke? But in the long seeping summer days, old sloth and present reality take over. ** Review In The Newton Letter, a historian trying to finish a book on Isaac Newton rents a cottage outside Dublin where he becomes obsessed with the family's history. Banville "uses the implication of the science he describes to turn biography back on itself. . . his most impressive work to date." --The New York Times About the Author John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fourteen previous novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.
‘Fable, intellectual thriller, Gothic extravaganza, symbolist conundrum . . . a true work of art’ Sunday Independent Is there a numerical solution to the quest for the meaning of life? A brilliant reworking of the classic Dr Faustus theme, Mefisto focuses on the mathematically gifted Gabriel Swan, who seeks a numerical solution to his quest for order and meaning in life. ‘Mefisto renders all superlatives woefully inadequate . . . Undisputed master of language, the laconic pause and the blackly comic, Banville is a supreme stylist . . . He is a magician . . . Another expectedly astonishing and very daring display from this richly, almost wickedly, gifted artist’ Time Out ‘An excellent novel, beautifully written. The sort of thing you have to read more than once – wonderful stuff’ Punch ‘Few writers in Ireland today can arouse such expectation by the advent of a new novel . . . A profound beauty of words displayed by their lover . . . Banville’s great enterprise does not falter . . . read Mefisto straight through; it deserves it’ Irish Times Review A novel of virtuosic scope, written in a style as pristine as the rarefied mountain air atop the Brocken. --The New York Times Intense, cerebral, linguistically inventive. --Cleveland Plain Dealer About the Author John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fourteen previous novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.
A collection of short stories from the early years of Man Booker Prize-winning author John Banville’s career, Long Lankin explores the passionate emotions—fear, jealousy, desire—that course beneath the surface of everyday life. From a couple at risk of being torn apart by the allure of wealth to an old man’s descent into nature, the tales in this collection showcase the talents that launched Banville onto the literary scene. Offering a unique insight into the mind of “one of the great living masters of English-language prose” (Los Angeles Times), these nine haunting sketches stand alone as canny observations on the turbulence of the human condition. Review Praise for John Banville and Long Lankin: “Banville is that rare writer who can pack all five senses into a declarative sentence.” —The Wall Street Journal “Banville is the most intelligent and stylish novelist currently at work.” —The Observer (London) “The stories move unerringly with a nervous, almost aggressive speed, creating taut emotional situations. . . . Thoroughly Irish and thoroughly individual.” —Sunday Telegraph (London) “Banville has the skill, ambition and learning to stand at the end of the great tradition of modernist writers.” —Times Literary Supplement (London) “If Banville is capable of writing an unmemorable sentence, he has successfully concealed the evidence.” —The Washington Post “Banville is a master at capturing the most fleeting memory or excruciating twinge of self-awareness with riveting accuracy.” —People “Prodigiously gifted. He cannot write an unpolished phrase, so we read him slowly, relishing the stream of pleasures he affords. Everything in Banville’s books is alive. Bleakly elegant, he is a writer’s writer . . . who can conjure with the poetry of people and places.” —The Independent (London) “Banville is the heir to Proust, via Nabokov.” —The Daily Beast “A glorious stylist whose prose holds sustaining pleasures, both large and small.” —Newsday “Banville’s mastery of language is an intense delight.” —Evening Standard (London) About the Author John Banville, the author of sixteen novels, has been the recipient of the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Award, the Franz Kafka Prize, and a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. He lives in Dublin.
Amazon.com Review A Q&A with Author John Banville Question: Where did you get the idea to use Greek gods as characters in a novel? And then how did you settle on the ones we meet in The Infinities? John Banville: I have always been an admirer of the great German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist, particularly the play I consider his masterpiece, The Infinities quite closely on Amphitryon, but fiction has its own laws and its own demands, and the finished novel is an autonymous creature, though the Kleist is still there in skeletal form. Question: Why did you decide to make Adam Godley a mathematician? John Banville: I don’t know that I ever actively decided to make him anything."Decisions" in the writing of fiction tend to be mostly a matter of dream and drift. But I wanted him to be someone operating in an otherworld of speculation, pure number, and infinitudes, where the gods might be already at play. Question: There is something so classical and familiar about the death bed scene, the family patriarch dying and the family coming from far and wide to gather at his bedside. What about the death bed construct appealed to you as a starting off point? John Banville: Again, I didn’t think of the book as centering on a death bed scene--and I don’t think it does, really--but of course fiction is a tired old business where there is nothing new under even the intensest sun. In fact, one of the pleasures of working in the novel form is the challenge of finding new ways to present old things. Spinoza says somewhere that the wise man thinks only of death but all his thoughts will thereby be a contemplation of life. I hope that’s the case with The Infinities, and that everything in it is vividly alive, even the dying old man upstairs. Question: Many readers have commented on the humor in this novel. Is it harder for you to write comedy or tragedy (which you have certainly done in previous novels)? John Banville: All my books are funny, if you know how to listen for the jokes. The novel, at a certain basic level, is a comic form. Do you know the story of Kafka reading to a group of friends from Question: This novel takes place over the course of a single day. Why did you decide on that time structure? John Banville: I was following Amphitryon in this--preserving the unities, as the Aristotelians say. There is a nice compactness to the time-scale in the book, which I like. Also the fact of limiting the action to a single day makes for a mysterious sweet melancholy. Everyone has days that will live in the memory for a lifetime; for my characters, that Midsummer Day is one. Question: So Hermes is our narrator (though, of course, John Banville is really our narrator). So author as messenger? Author as God? Or is that just reading too much into it? John Banville: Well, of course, in the little world of a novel the author is a god, or at least a demigod, watching over his creatures, helping them, if he can, or at least not hindering them. In a wider sense, I find the pagan world of the Greeks highly appealing, and wish we could regain their state of innocence and sophistication. Bring back the old gods, I say. (Photo © Jerry Bauer) From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Having apparently exorcised his taste for bloody intrigue with his pseudonym, Benjamin Black, Banville returns to high form (and his given name) with a novel even more pristine than his Booker-winning The Sea. Old Adam Godley lies dying, flying through his past on the way to eternity while his brooding son (also named Adam) sleepwalks through his marriage to the amorous Helen, and young Adam's loony sister, Petra, writes an encyclopedia of human morbidity. But Adam and his brood are not alone, nor is our narrator any detached third person: the gods are afoot, chiefly Hermes, disguised as a farmer, whispering to us of mortal love, guiding old Adam on his way, and laying bare all the Godleys' secrets while divine Zeus conducts illicit amours with Helen. Hermes assures us that mortal speech is barely articulate gruntings, yet Banville has the perfect instrument for his textured prose, almost never as finely tuned as this. The narrative is rife with asides, but it is to the common trajectory of a life that—despite the noise crowding ailing Adam's repose—it lends its most consoling notes, elevating the temporal and profane to the holy eternal. (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this brilliantly haunting new novel, John Banville forges an unforgettable amalgam of enchantment and menace that suggests both The Tempest and his own acclaimed The Book of Evidence. "A surreal and exquisitely lyrical new novel by one of the great stylists writing in English today."--Boston Globe. ** From Publishers Weekly The narrator of this lyrical novel by the author of The Book of Evidence banishes himself to a deserted island inhabited by two other castaways. Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. From Library Journal A bedraggled medley of castaways from a day outing wash ashore a remote island. Led by Felix, the unctuous, mutable "lord of the streets," they include many of the same Faustian types--the innocent girl, the moribund gentleman--who inhabit Banville's previous fiction, The Book of Evidence ( LJ 3/1/90) and Mephisto (Godine, 1989). They have, perhaps, walked "straight out of the deepest longings" of the forsaken trio already sentenced to live on that island: an art expert with dubious credentials, Professor Kreutnaer; his disgruntled, lovelorn assistant Licht; and the familiar ex-convict who is also our first-person narrator. Banville is not so much interested in the plight of the castaways, whom he arranges in a tableau vivant and then abandons, as he is in the criminal descent and groping atonement of his hapless narrator. Here Banville's quirky, Beckettian stream-of-consciousness takes off: pathetic, noble, hilarious, this narrator is an utterly original "little god." The novel, though in some ways incomplete, is an exuberant, virtuosic display. - Amy Boaz, "Library Journal" Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.