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...
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