Style is not merely a superficial concern in Banville, it is how he conjures the secrets he is after. He approvingly quotes Henry James: “In literature, we move through a blessed world, in which we know nothing except through style, and in which everything is redeemed by style.” As a novelist slightly irritated with the form and limitations of the novel, Banville has defiantly expressed disregard for most aspects associated with it, professing “little or no interest in characters, plot, motivation, manners, politics, morality or social issue . . .” In their stead, it seems that his abiding interest is nicely suggested in the opening lines of Czeslaw Milosz’s magisterial “Ars Poetica”: “I have always aspired to a more spacious form / that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose.” This “spacious form” is one that Banville inhabits quite well in his oeuvre, which is rich, allusive, playful, and existential at the same time.
. . .Throughout it all, there is no escaping the sheer pleasure of Banville’s singing prose—his wondrous-strange manner, which boasts a profusion of gifts and an uncommon sensitivity to the ineffable. We’re confronted with the work of a muralist and also a miniaturist, someone equally at ease tackling the large themes—time, memory ("The past beats inside me like a second heart,” he writes in The Sea), authenticity, alternative existences—as he is capable of devoting loving attention to the details that make up our world. We emerge from his novels, senses tingling brightly, somehow more aware of our possibilities. And Banville honors “the ordinary, that strangest and most elusive of enigmas” through his allegiance to indeterminacy, often content to leave mysteries unresolved, thrumming.
John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His many novels include Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, The Newton Letter (Godine, 1987), Mefisto (Godine, 1986), Athena, The Book of Evidence (which was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize), and The Untouchable. His novel The Sea was awarded the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Formerly the literary editor of the Irish Times, John Banville lives with his family in Dublin.