Author Banville’s Works Recommended

By Mary Brennan

I was asked recently by a younger friend if I could recommend a book that I had found compelling enough to persuade others to read.

Upon reflection, I decided that rather than name one book, I would recommend an author who has written many books. All are well written and worth reading.

An Irishman, he is a critically acclaimed, distinguished writer widely acknowledged for the complexity of his content and the musicality and beauty of his language.

This is most evident in his best-known work, The Sea. It is a novel about love, loss and the unpredictable power of memory. In it, a man mourns the loss of his dead wife and must learn to cope with his overwhelming grief.

The power of the novel is in its poetic, elegiac exploration of the tumult of emotional turbulence which accompanies such losses. It won the prestigious Booker Prize.

The author, John Banville, is obviously a man in love with language in general, but also with specific poetic forms. Haiku comes to mind. For example, a single descriptive sentence of a street in Dublin is prose capturing a Haiku sensibility.

Since that early work, Banville has written many others on widely different topics. One in particular I recommend is called Wolf on a String. Here, Banville turns his eye to sixteenth century Prague court intrigue laced with murder and magic.

After coming to a reluctant end of The Sea, I was both surprised and delighted to discover that Banville wrote books in a completely different genre under the pseudonym, Benjamin Black.

No Haiku in these books, which are crime thrillers capturing the world of 1950’s Dublin. Their protagonist is an ungainly, middle-aged pathologist, Quirke, who is somewhat of a plodder. He has “an itch … to delve into the dark of things hidden … to know.” He successfully solves mysteries which uncover political corruption of church and state though he suffers many physical and psychological bruises in the process

Banville confesses that, as Black, he writes books with plots about things that could actually happen in life. He acknowledges, also, that simple books can raise profound questions. He manages to incorporate ethical and moral dilemmas even in the midst of the sordid and unpleasant aspects of crime solving.

For a first reading of Black, it is best to read the series in chronological order to follow the changes in the life of Quirke though each book is a stand-alone.

In all his work, Banville proves the appropriateness of the old adage that the truth in stories lies not in their factual precision but in their emotional core.

In Banville’s case, there is a harmonious balance of both scholarship and creativity which combine to give great satisfaction to this reader.

I hope that it transfers to my young enquirer and, perhaps, to you dear reader.

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