John Banville, the Contemporary Novelist Who Avoids Contemporary Novels

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Credit...Rebecca Clarke

Nov. 4, 2021

“I work precise small caller fabrication these days, to my shame and regret,” says the writer John Banville, whose latest caller is “April successful Spain.” “So overmuch of it seems to maine specified prattle. Isn’t that awful?”

What books are connected your nighttime stand?

I’m rereading the Everyman’s Library variation of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” successful the magnificent translation by John E. Woods. Also “The Empress of Ireland,” an inexplicably neglected memoir by Christopher Robbins of the inexplicably forgotten Irish movie manager Brian Desmond Hurst, archetypal published successful 2004. The publication is highly engaging, bittersweet and funny, and a benignant of masterpiece successful its way. Get it successful the fantastic and wonderfully named Slightly Foxed Editions edition, if you can.

What’s the past large publication you read?

See above.

Are determination immoderate classical novels that you lone precocious work for the archetypal time?

I’m considering having different spell astatine “Middlemarch,” which I person ne'er managed to finish. I find George Eliot’s didactic code and suffocating authorial beingness beauteous good unbearable. Go ahead, Elioteers, outcry maltreatment astatine me, I don’t care. And I‘m speechmaking the “Annals” of Tacitus. Honestly, I am.

Can a large publication beryllium severely written? What different criteria tin flooded atrocious prose?

Oh, yes indeed. Though I tin lone work him successful translation, I deliberation Dostoyevsky is an extraordinarily clumsy and slipshod writer. Nabokov thought truthful too, which is bully capable for me.

Describe your perfect speechmaking acquisition (when, where, what, how).

A butler astatine immoderate expansive location was asked by the novelist Henry Green for his explanation of happiness, and the butler said thing to the effect of, Sitting up successful furniture of a Sunday morning, listening to distant religion bells and eating blistery buttered toast with fingers that odor of sex. Add a book, and determination you person it — though there’s the interest of that blistery food getting connected the pages. Still, a hazard worthy taking.

What’s your favourite publication nary 1 other has heard of?

Well, I can’t deliberation of a publication that nary 1 has heard of. If you mean a neglected classic, I’d accidental “Herself Surprised,” by Joyce Cary. It’s portion of the trilogy that includes the better-known “The Horse’s Mouth,” but it’s each spot arsenic good.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — moving contiguous bash you respect most?

How overmuch occupation bash you privation to get maine into?

Until past year, you utilized the pseudonym Benjamin Black erstwhile you wrote transgression novels, and reserved your existent sanction for quote-unquote literate books. Did your speechmaking beingness alteration arsenic good erstwhile you were penning arsenic Black?

No, no. When I wrote my archetypal transgression novel, “Christine Falls” — first, if you don’t number “The Book of Evidence” — I utilized a pen-name conscionable to fto readers cognize I wasn’t playing an elaborate postmodernist joke. Lately I had to cheque backmost connected immoderate of the BB books successful bid to constitute a sequel to 1 of them, and since I can’t carnivore to work my ain enactment I deed connected the thought of listening to them successful audio form. Timothy Dalton reads a mates of the aboriginal ones superbly, and since the dependable was his much than mine, I was capable to justice them with immoderate objectivity. So overmuch truthful that I thought, wherefore the pseudonym? So I killed disconnected my acheronian brother. As to speechmaking others, I’ve ever been a keen admirer of the classical transgression writers, Chandler, Margery Allingham, Richard Stark, etc. And supra all, of course, Simenon. I work him each the time, and helium ne'er palls.

Do you number immoderate books arsenic blameworthy pleasures?

I wouldn’t consciousness blameworthy adjacent if I were lone speechmaking the backmost of a cornflakes box. The enactment of speechmaking is bonzer — full worlds created retired of achromatic squiggles connected a achromatic crushed — and I’ll work thing if it’s good written. Lately I revisited “Treasure Island” and was arsenic thrilled and charmed arsenic erstwhile I archetypal work it arsenic a boy. Stevenson is 1 of the great, unobtrusive stylists.

What’s the astir absorbing happening you learned from a publication recently?

The beingness of the “Wood-Wide Web,” that I heard of archetypal successful Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees.” A genuinely marvelous book, virtually so, for it’s afloat of wonder, and wonders.

What moves you astir successful a enactment of literature?

The style.

Which books got you hooked connected transgression fiction?

Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” Richard Stark’s “The Outfit,” Simenon’s “Dirty Snow.” And dozens of others.

What makes for a bully mystery?

I would springiness arsenic reply what William Goldman said of the movies — No 1 knows anything.

Do you separate betwixt “commercial” and “literary” fiction? Where’s that line, for you?

Again, if the happening is good and honestly written past it’s good, arsenic acold arsenic I’m concerned. There’s a fantastic small marginal admonition to himself successful 1 of Charles Darwin’s notebooks: Never accidental higher oregon lower.

How bash you signifier your books?

I don’t. They person a beingness of their own, truthful I ne'er cognize wherever thing is.

What publication mightiness radical beryllium amazed to find connected your shelves?

I can’t deliberation of any, fixed what I said supra astir the cornflakes box.

What’s the champion publication you’ve ever received arsenic a gift?

“Dubliners,” by James Joyce. I was, I think, 12, erstwhile I was fixed it for my birthday.

What benignant of scholar were you arsenic a child? Which puerility books and authors instrumentality with you most?

Avid. I utilized to outcry erstwhile I came to the extremity of 1 of the Just William books, by Richmal Crompton. Also a small pamphlet called “Maggie’s Rosary,” by I can’t retrieve whom. I deliberation it was the archetypal extended substance I read, astatine the property of 7 oregon 8, and it excessively made maine cry.

How person your speechmaking tastes changed implicit time?

I work precise small caller fabrication these days, to my shame and regret. Somehow, present that I’m old, I don’t look to request immoderate it is fabrication offers. So overmuch of it seems to maine specified prattle. Isn’t that awful?

You’re organizing a literate meal party. Which 3 writers, dormant oregon alive, bash you invite?

William James, Denis Diderot, Elizabeth Bowen.

What bash you program to work next?

Mann’s “Buddenbrooks” — I’m connected a binge — in, of course, the Everyman edition.

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