Study Guide

John Banville

John Banville Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In the 1970’s, John Banville (BAN-vihl) emerged as one of Ireland’s most important modern writers. Born in the town of Wexford in the southern part of Ireland, Banville was educated near his home, first at the Christian Brothers School and later at St. Peter’s College. He did not go on to attend a university. From 1966 to 1967, he lived in Greece. He later moved to Dublin, where in 1969 he married Janet Dunham. The following year, he began working as a copy editor for The Irish Press, a job he continued to hold even after his reputation as a writer was well established.

Banville’s first book, Long Lankin, was published that same year. A collection of short stories and a novella set in modern-day Dublin, the book offers an interwoven portrait of characters trapped in the confusion and bleakness of modern life. Casting a dark shadow over the stories is the English ballad that provides the book with its name; Long Lankin is a haunting tale of love and death that serves as the thematic basis for Banville’s characters and their lives. The book was greeted with praise from literary critics, who pointed to Banville’s fictional debut as a work of exceptional talent and promise.

Banville’s first novel appeared in 1971. Nightspawn draws on the author’s own sojourn in Greece for its setting and its depiction of the events leading up to that country’s 1967 military coup. Its central figure and narrator is Ben White, a character who figured prominently in the Long Lankin stories, making Nightspawn in some ways a sequel to Banville’s earlier work. Ostensibly a thriller, the book blends mythic images with historical events as it explores the functions and limitations of modern literature. The book drew a mixed critical reaction, receiving praise for the beauty of its language and criticism for its convoluted plotting.

In his second novel, Birchwood, Banville takes on the traditions of Irish literature with a modern slant. The work is set in a large country house peopled with eccentric, sharply drawn characters. Banville gives this setting a contemporary twist, as the book’s narrator chronicles his childhood in such a house and his subsequent experiences with a traveling circus, which he joins on his quest for his perhaps imaginary sister. An examination of truth and memory, the story is filled with strange happenings—a death by spontaneous combustion, a band of transvestite revolutionaries—all set against the backdrop of the great potato famine and related with what even Banville’s critics admitted was startling originality. The year of the book’s publication, Banville received both the Allied Irish Banks prize and the Arts Council of Ireland and Macaulay Fellowship.

In 1976, Banville wrote the first of three novels inspired by Arthur Koestler’s...

(The entire section is 1173 words.)

John Banville Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Banville was born in Wexford, the seat of Ireland’s southeasternmost county, on December 8, 1945. He was educated locally, first at the Christian Brothers School and, on the secondary level, at St. Peter’s College. After school, he worked for Aer Lingus, the Irish airline. Subsequently, he worked in England for the post office and, briefly, for a London publisher. Returning to Ireland, he worked as a subeditor for the Irish Press, a national daily, and then later went to work at the Irish Times, where he served as literary editor from 1988 to 1999. The recipient of numerous awards, he also spent a semester in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In 2005, he received the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sea.

John Banville Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Banville (BAN-vihl), who was born in Wexford, Ireland, is one of that country’s most revered living writers. His father, Martin, worked in a garage, while his mother, Agnes, worked at home caring for Banville, his brother Vincent, and his sister Vonnie. He was educated by the Christian Brothers, who are known throughout Ireland as strict disciplinarians, and also attended St. Peter’s College in Wexford. Banville decided to forgo a university education to avoid being dependent upon his family and worked instead as a computer operator for Ireland’s national airline, Aer Lingus, a job that facilitated his desire to travel. He lived for a year in the United States in the late 1960’s and met his wife, Janet Dunham, an American textile artist, in San Francisco. They married in 1969 and had two sons. Banville also had two daughters with Patricia Quinn, the former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

After his return to Ireland in 1970, Banville accepted a job as a junior editor at the Irish Press. He published a short-story collection, Long Lankin, in 1970, and his first novel, the metaphysical Nightspawn, appeared the following year. His second novel, Birchwood (1973), a gothic fantasy about a diminished Irish family, has been compared to Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852-1853).

Doctor Copernicus (1976), the first novel in what would become his scientific tetralogy, cast Banville into the international limelight. The series of novels deal with mathematics and astronomy as a means of perception. In the first novel, Nicolaus Copernicus, the sixteenth century Polish astronomer and first European to formulate the model of the solar system, is plagued with self-doubt, as is the astronomer in Banville’s next historical novel, Kepler (1981), which is based on the life and findings of Johannes Kepler, the seventeenth century German scientist who...

(The entire section is 788 words.)

John Banville Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Considered among the best of Ireland’s novelists, John Banville is highly regarded for his beautiful, precise, and lyrical prose style, his clever use of literary allusion, his dark humor, and his evocative philosophical ideas. His novels address deep personal loss, destructive familial love, the intense psychic pain that accompanies freedom, the illusionary aspect of human perception, and the inevitable isolation of the individual.