John Banville (1945- ) is an Irish novelist, short story writer. He was born in Wexford, where he received his secondary education at St Peter’s College. He worked successively as a clerk and journalist before becoming literary editor of the Irish Times (1988-99).
His fiction is characterized by an allusive, ironic style and a preoccupation with its own processes. Common themes throughout his work include loss, obsession, destructive love, and the pain that accompanies freedom. Long Lankin, a collection of stories, appeared in 1970. Its concluding novella, “The Possessed’, was drawn on in Banville’s first novel, Nightspawn (1971), whose narrator becomes a character in his own plot.
The ‘big house’ novel Birchwood (1973) was followed by a trilogy of fictional portraits of famous scientists-Doctor Copernicus (1976), Kepler (1981), and The Newton Letter (1982)-in which the search for scientific certainty mirrors the quest for a persuasive artistic rendering of experience. These three works use scientific exploration as a metaphor to question perceptions of fiction and reality.
Mefisto, the most explicitly Faustian of Banville’s novels, appeared in 1986. The Book of Evidence (1989) introduced a second trilogy, completed by Ghosts (1993) and Athena (1994). Freddie Montgomery, the protagonist of all three works, is an aesthete and convicted murderer, obsessed with the issue of authenticity in the visual arts. The art curator at the center of The Untouchable (1997), a deft transmutation of the spy novel, can be recognized as a version of the ‘Cambridge spy’ Anthony Blunt.
Banville used the pseudonym Benjamin Black for his crime series about a Dublin pathologist in the 1950s: Christine Falls (2006), The Silver Swan (2007), Elegy for April (2010), A Death in Summer (2011), Vengeance (2012), Holy Orders (2013), and Even the Dead (2015). Other Benjamin Black books include The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014), which features Raymond Chandler’s fictional private detective Philip Marlowe, and the historical crime novel Wolf on a String (2017).
The Sea (2005), a meditative novel about a man who returns to the marine setting of a childhood trauma after the death of his wife, won the Man Booker Prize.