Adventures in Narcissism: Lines From John Banville's Wikipedia Page I Wish Were About Me
Previously in this series: How I intend to comport myself when I have abs someday.
“Though he has been described as “the heir to Proust, via Nabokov,” Banville himself maintains that W.B. Yeats and Henry James are the two real influences on his work.”
This is the spiritual opposite of that tweet about how the most cutting thing you can say is “Who’s this clown?” because “it implies that they’re a) a clown & b) not even one of the better-known clowns.” Oh, sure, I’ve been described as the heir to Proust, and as a nice little bonus, the heir to Proust as mediated through Nabokov, and been described thusly so many times, and by so many different critics and literary gatekeepers that it no longer makes sense to name anyone, it’s simply one of those things that gets said about me now, everyone’s saying it, my direct line to Proust and Nabokov is not only a matter of public record but so integral to the critical understanding of my work — sorry, corpus — that it’s in the second sentence in a ten-section profile, and while I of course tenderly cherish the comparison, I must gently yet wisely admonish my admirers, bless them, whose hearts are all in the right place and really rather well-read themselves, that if one revisits my work — sorry, corpus — one will see that Yeats and James’ influences are the stronger pair. People say I sound a lot like Marcel Proust and they’re not wrong exactly but I sound more like W.B. Yeats and I have long purple-black hair that cascades down my back almost to my hips.
“Banville has won the 1976 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the 2003 International Nonino Prize, the 2005 Booker Prize, the 2011 Franz Kafka Prize, the 2013 Austrian State Prize for European Literature and the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature.”
I have always wanted to be a universally-acclaimed outsider!!! Who both wins awards and is a perennial underdog! I think the best way to play both sides is something like this, where you win one big-deal award in the 1970s that establishes you as a serious fuckin’ player, but then you don’t win any more awards for almost thirty years, so you still have the original credential but now with a mounting roar of chatter following each subsequent publication about “Where are his awards? Shouldn’t he be winning more awards? Why is no one giving this guy any awards?” and so on, until I spend the next fifteen years winning a lot of awards, and nobody gets any Taylor Swift-style award fatigue with me, I’m old enough that everyone’s comfortable with my success now and thinks it’s well-deserved, because all these late-stage awards are just correcting an earlier imbalance, so I’m winning a ton of awards left and right but nobody says anything like, “Do you think he’s winning too many awards?” because it’s just the perfect amount of awards.
“He is a former member of Aosdána, having voluntarily relinquished the financial stipend in 2001 to another, more impoverished, writer.”
This is almost as good as turning down a knighthood, which I also want to do someday. “Please, I have so much already — think of my poor peers, all of whom require condescension and aid more than I do, I who have everything, including a keen sense of noblesse oblige…”
“His next work, Mefisto, had a mathematical theme.”
I have always wanted to write one of those books that turn into academic cottage industries and where thirty years after publication some mathematician writes about my ingenious metaphorical deployment of fractals called “Across the Pale Parabola of Joy,” or whatever!!!
“In addition, he publishes crime novels as Benjamin Black — most of these feature the character of Quirke, an Irish pathologist based in Dublin…He writes his Benjamin Black crime fiction much more quickly than he composes his literary novels. He appreciates his work as Black as a craft, while as Banville he is an artist. He considers crime writing, in his own words, as being “cheap fiction.””
In my spare time I am John Le Carré, which is terribly embarrassing, a wretched little habit, oh my best-selling crime fiction hobby is just too silly, just a way of passing the time really, ha ha, I had to do something after I gave up smoking and I suppose writing beautifully-paced crime fiction that gets adapted into a beloved miniseries starring Gabriel Byrne is better than buying another pack of cigarettes, but it doesn’t matter at all to me, it’s just a knack, like knowing how to whistle, it’s not art, please don’t call it art, I have totally separate awards for all of my art and I don’t even keep it in the same room as my awards for my silly little day job being John Le Carré! I’m very glad that it amuses you, of course!
“After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus, which allowed him to travel at deeply discounted rates.”
After school I waited tables, which allowed me to take home a lot of ham-and-cheese croissants at the end of the day.
“Banville became a sub-editor at The Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, endured financial troubles, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left.”
Yes, in my spare time between writing award-winning novels in the vein of Proust, Nabokov, Yeats, and James (Henry), I also served as the literary editor of the Irish Times, but I gave it all up when the Times began facing financial troubles — I love giving things up for the sake of the deserving poor, who are some of my dearest friends — you see I simply don’t need the money, because of all of my award-winning novels, and so I am perfectly cheerful to give up any extra careers I happen to accumulate over the years for the sake of those brave boys and fine women down in the newsroom and shouldering the presses, they’re the real heroes and I salute them.
“Asked in 2012 about the breakdown of that marriage, Banville’s immediate thoughts focused on the effect it had on his children; “It was hard on them,” he said.”
He has disowned his first published novel, Nightspawn, describing it as “crotchety, posturing, absurdly pretentious.”
Of course if you still like my first novel you should feel no embarrassment whatsoever! It spoke to you, and that pleases me, but I have transcended several artistic planes in the intervening years — nine planes, as it happens — and derive no pleasure from it now. What a child I was in those days, an absolute child!
As an unknown writer in the 1980s, he toured Dublin’s bookshops — “and we had a lot of bookshops back then” — around the time of the publication of his novel Kepler, “and there wasn’t a single one of any of my books anywhere.” But, he noted in 2012, “I didn’t feel badly about it because I was writing the kinds of books I wanted to write. And I had no one but myself to blame if I wasn’t making money, that wasn’t anybody's fault. Nobody was obliged to buy my books.”
I used to be terribly poor and principled, and I knew I had only myself to blame for whatever success or failure came my way, and then of course a great deal of success came my way….you can put together the rest, you know…I’m terribly self-reliant…I didn’t used to be famous at all, isn’t that rather funny to think about now, in light of my dreadful, all-encompassing fame that has come to define me…it was a simpler time then…there were bookshops everywhere and I had not yet single-handedly redefined Irish literature for the first time since Beckett.
“Banville has written three trilogies.”
I want to write three trilogies! There’s that mathematical angle again!
“While on a book tour of the United States in March 2006, Banville received a telephone call: “I have bad news, I’m afraid. John Banville is dead.” However, Banville was aware that McGahern had been unwell and, having performed the necessary checks to ensure that he was still alive, concluded that it was McGahern who was dead instead. And it was.”
“Banville is highly scathing of all of his work, stating of his books: “I hate them all ... I loathe them. They’re all a standing embarrassment.”
Guess all my fans are going to have to come up with something a little more sophisticated and challenging than “I love your work” if they hope to please me!!!!!!!
“His typical writing day begins with a drive from his home in Dublin to his office by the river. He writes from 9 a.m. until lunch. He then dines on bread, cheese and tea and resumes working until 6 p.m., at which time he returns home. He writes on two desks at right angles to each other, one facing a wall and the other facing a window through which he has no view and never cleans. He advises against young writers approaching him for advice: “I remind them as gently as I can, that they are on their own, with no help available anywhere.””
I am a simple man…I wish to dine simply on bread, cheese and tea…I have two desks, one for redefining Irish literature and one for being John Le Carré when I am tired of redefining Irish literature and simply want to have a laugh…I am very gentle when I depress the ambitions of young upstarts, for I see something of myself in them…they wish to see themselves in me, of course, but I simply can’t allow it…I am a simple country mouse who single-handedly redefined Irish literature…
Michael Ross has stated that Banville is “perhaps the only living writer capable of advancing fiction beyond the point reached by Beckett.”
Why aren’t people saying this about me!!!
Banville has said that he is “trying to blend poetry and fiction into some new form.”
Sometimes when I am finished for the day with redefining Irish literature I like to set my sights a little higher and invent new forms…well…I’m trying to, anyways…we shall see if I succeed…
Banville said in an interview with The Paris Review that he liked Vladimir Nabokov’s style; however, he went on, “But I always thought there was something odd about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I read an interview in which he admitted he was tone deaf.”
Oh, yes, Nabokov, of course, brilliant fellow…remarkable fellow…quite a knack he had for writing books and so on…and yet as I read his corpus — sorry, work — over the years I had this nagging feeling that there was something wrong with it…and then of course one day my keen and unfailing perception hit upon it: The man was tone-deaf! He confirmed it himself in an interview, of course, but his tunelessness had already made itself terribly plain to me. One feels rather sorry for the little moppet. Mine, incidentally, is a pleasant but unremarkable three-and-a-half octave range, baritone.
“Banville has often spoken and written of his admiration for women. He is in favour of women’s rights…On women in his own writing, Banville told Niamh Horan of the Sunday Independent in 2012: “I don't make a distinction between men and women. To me they are just people.””
Please, please – I am just a man! I am only a human, mortal man! Yes, it is true that I have climbed the peak that brought that vast and stunning horizon of life beyond sexism swimming into my ken…but I am but a watcher of the skies, I do not bid new planets to join the music of the spheres! I admire women…they’re really quite remarkable, you know…I’m always writing about that, because of course on the one hand they’re just people like anyone, but on the other hand…people are the most remarkable thing to do…
“Speaking to Niamh Horan in 2012, Banville related his thoughts on hurt and responsibility: “To hurt other people is the worst thing you can do.””
It’s just terrible!!!
“Ben, a Labrador, lived until the age of 11 before succumbing to cancer at Christmas 1980. Decades later Banville still regarded Ben as “a lost friend, and every few months he ambles into one of my dreams, snuffling and sighing and obviously wondering why there are no more walks. This may sound sentimental, but it does not feel that way.””
Your feelings about your former dogs are mere sentiment…a muddle, a maudle, wherein clear thought is stifled by mawkishness…mine are complex, elevated, transcend the very idea of life and death itself…I could explain it but I won’t…
“I’m no expert on these matters. I claim no expertise but I’m told that vivisection is of no consequence, that you don’t really need it, certainly not in this day and age.”
As I say, I’m no expert myself!
“Earlier that year Sutherland had written approvingly of Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday. Banville, however, dismissed the work in The New York Review of Books and expressed his dismay that McEwan was increasingly showing “a disturbing tendency toward mellowness.” Anne Haverty later described Banville’s critique of Saturday as “devastatingly effective.””
This gets into the beating, rotten heart of my enviousness…I want this more than I can possibly say…to deliver a mild-yet-devastating critique of a beloved novelist that changes the entire trajectory of his future career…I merely have to express a slight dismay or crook my eyebrow just so for the butterfly effect to take place!
At the award ceremony, BBC Two’s Kirsty Wark quizzed Financial Times arts editor Jan Dalley, the Independent on Sunday literary editor Suzi Feay and The Observer literary editor Robert McCrum. Banville, Barry and Ali Smith were dismissed outright and much of the discussion focused on Barnes, Ishiguro and Zadie Smith. In the end, the judges’ vote was split between Banville and Ishiguro, with Rick Gekoski one of those favouring Banville. It fell to Sutherland to cast the winning vote; he did so in favour of Banville. Banville later said: “I have not been the most popular person in London literary circles over the past half-year. And I think it was very large of Sutherland to cast the winning vote in my favour.”
And then! And then! For the very critic whose rapturous reception of a novel I would subsequently slight, thereby calling that critic’s faculties and discernment into question, cutting him off at the critical knees, pulling out from underneath his wobbling feet the rug of acumen, for that same critic to cast the winning vote in my favor as I win yet another award (I am not popular in literary circles but they do keep giving me awards, for they cannot but grudgingly admit that I am in my finest flower!!!!)!!! It was very large of him, very large of him indeed! What a noble opponent!
“Banville responded well in spite the [Nobel Prize] hoax; he was described in the Sunday Independent as being “as dignified and eloquent as ever in the face of a disappointment that made headlines around the world” and told The Observer: “There is some comedy in it and potential material: ‘The man who nearly won the Nobel prize.’” Media in Ireland described the trick played on Banville as “cruel,” while media in neighbouring England described it as “deceitful.” He received numerous sympathetic emails and telephone calls and support from fellow writers.”
A critically-acclaimed outsider…a dignified target of a hoax that draws an outpouring of support from the literary circles that dislike me and yet must acknowledge my greatness….saying, “Damnit, Daniel Banville, I may dislike you but it simply cannot be denied that you were the victim of shabby treatment, poor form, bad sportsmanship, very poor form indeed, you deserve better enemies, great and glittering enemies spun from the finest crystal, I may dislike you but good God, do I admire and revere you, love you even…needless to say this casts something of a pall over whichever chump did receive the Nobel this year, whoever they are…you will be remembered forever for your noble spirit….some might say your Nobel spirit…ho ho! A musical Nabokov, but more Yeatsian, first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of your countrymen, and everyone who has ever wronged you was a churl.” That’s all I want!!!!