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John Banville Biography

(1945– ), Long Lankin, Dubliners, Nightspawn, Birchwood, Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, The Newton Letter, Mefisto

irish art murderer relationship

Irish novelist, born in Wexford, Ireland, educated at the Christian Brothers School and St Peter's College, Wexford. In 1970 he published Long Lankin, a collection of short stories which, like Joyce's Dubliners, examined Irish life from the perspective of several characters, dealing with different stages in their lives from childhood to adulthood; a novella, ‘The Possessed’, was also included. Nightspawn (1971) was a sequel to the novella, exploring the relationship between truth and fiction through the consciousness of its writer-hero, Ben White. Birchwood (1973) developed some of the earlier work's themes; its narrator, Gabriel Godwin, is an Irish writer engaged on a Proustian quest for ‘time misplaced’. The relationship between creation and reality is explored in many of Banville's novels. Using historical figures, in Doctor Copernicus (1976; James Tait Black Memorial Prize), Kepler (1981), and The Newton Letter (1982), Banville explored the idea of science as an art form and of scientists as ‘the makers … of supreme fictions’. More sombre and set in the present is Mefisto (1986), which, as the title implies, is Banville's reworking of the classic Dr Faustus theme; the novel focuses on the mathematically gifted Gabriel Swan, who seeks a numerical solution to his quest for order and meaning in life. The Book of Evidence (1989) is a haunting anatomy of a murder, seen from the point of view of the murderer, Montgomery, who abducts and kills a young woman during an incompetently executed art theft and is then tormented by the horror of his act. In the sequel, Ghosts (1993), which contains parallels with The Tempest, Banville's murderer, who has retreated to an Arcadian island to study a painter resembling Watteau, is disturbed and returned to the ‘human world’ of despair by castaways, one of whom recalls the past he is striving to exorcise. Athena (1995) sees the murderer (renamed Morrow) hired to authenticate a group of paintings, and seduced by ‘A’ (Athena) into an atavistic relationship which beckons his descent into a further personal hell and Banville's continuing excavation of truth and fraud, art and the imagination. The novel completes a trilogy of loss, guilt, and hauntings, praised for the wit and originality of its diction. John Banville became literary editor of the Irish Times in 1989.

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