The Franz Kafka Prize
2011 - John Banville
Born: 8 December 1945, Wexford, Republic of Ireland
Author's quote: "In order really to write one has to sink deep into the self and become lost there."
Field: Fiction & Screenwriter
Prize share: 1/1
Books Written By John Banville
About John Banville
William John Banville (born 8 December 1945), who writes as John Banville and sometimes as Benjamin Black, is an Irish novelist, adapter of dramas, and screenwriter. Recognised for his precise, cold, forensic prose style, Nabokovian inventiveness, and for the dark humour of his generally arch narrators, Banville is considered to be "one of the most imaginative literary novelists writing in the English language today."He has been described as "the heir to Proust, via Nabokov."
Banville has received numerous awards in his career. His novel The Book of Evidence was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Guinness Peat Aviation award in 1989. His fourteenth novel, The Sea, won the Booker Prize in 2005. In 2011, Banville was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, while 2013 brought both the Irish PEN Award and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2014 he won the Prince of Asturias Award in Letters. He is considered a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Banville's stated ambition is to give his prose "the kind of denseness and thickness that poetry has".
From 2006 to 2013, he has published seven crime novels as Benjamin Black, six featuring Quirke, an Irish pathologist based in Dublin. Another will be published in 2014.
The Sea - John Banville
By Mary Whipple
Booker Prize-winning author John Banville presents a sensitive and remarkably complete character study of Max Morden, an art critic/writer from Ireland whose wife has just died of a lingering illness. Seeking solace, Max has checked into the Cedars, a now dilapidated guest house in the seaside village of Ballyless, where he and his family spent their summers when he was a child. There he spent hours in the company of Chloe and Myles Grace, his constant companions. Images of foreboding suggest that some tragedy occurred while he was there, though the reader discovers only gradually what it might have been. Now at the Cedars, he contemplates the nature of life, love, and death, and our imperfect memories of these momentous events. As Max probes his recollections, he reveals his most intimate feelings, constantly questions the accuracy of his memory, and juxtaposes his childhood memories and his recent memories of his wife Anna's "inappropriate" illness and her futile treatments. Through flashbacks, he also introduces us to his earlier life with Anna and his fervent hopes that through her he could become someone more interesting. "I was always a distinct no-one, whose fiercest wish was to be an indistinct someone," he says, confessing that he saw her as "the fairground mirror in which all my distortions would be made straight." More a meditation than a novel with a strong plot, The Sea brings Max to life (such as his life is), recreating his seemingly simple, yet often profound, thoughts in language which will startle the reader into recognition of their universality. To some extent an everyman, Max speaks to the reader in uniquely intimate ways. In breathtaking language, filled with emotional connotations, he captures nature in perfect images, often revealing life as a series of paintings--"a Tiepolo sky," a hair-washing scene reminiscent of Duccio and Picasso. He objectifies his thoughts about memory through Pierre Bonnard's many portraits of "Nude in the Bath," paintings of Bonnard's wife in which she remains a young girl, even when she is seventy years old. Images of the bath and the sea pervade the novel--cleansing, combined with the ebb and flow of life. Lovers of plot-based novels may find that the lack of external action and the novel's focus on the interior battles of an ordinary man of about sixty fail to engage their interest. Other readers, who may have faced the deaths of family or friends and recognized the limitations of memory, however, may see in Max a kindred spirit to whom they respond with empathy. I have rarely read such a short book so slowly--or reread with pleasure so many passages of extraordinary beauty and import--and I felt a connection with Max that I have never felt before in any of Banville's previous novels. I loved this novel.
The Sea - John Banville
This was the first book of Banvilles that I have read (yes, I'm a slave to the Booker) but I found it enjoyable and exceptionally rewarding. In some ways this reminded me of Something Happened by Joseph Heller - the book was a tender description of his feelings for all but the last few pages when there is a dramatic event and then a revelation. Banville is a skilled writer, and the character of Max emerges complete - the way that the other characters sometime appear to be half-formed reflects the way we sometimes review the past.
I especially enjoyed the way that he wedded the past to the recent present, interweaving recollections about the two women he had loved, though one got the sense it was the ghost of the past to whom he felt the most attachment.
The beauty of the book was added to by the deployment of a rich vocabulary - it was a real feast of adjectives - that didn't smother the book but helped to heighten the tenderness Max felt for his past. Whilst it is true that there isn't much meat to this slender volume, Banville has created a fragile story that reflects the nature of the love he writes about.
It is easy to see why this book stood out to the Booker judges - it is essentially a dissertation of feeling rather than a dramtic love story. This is a book that is definitely worth investigating, though not if you enjoy a big plot and plenty of action.