Entertainment Books

Monday 18 November 2019

Banville won't read too much into review

John Banville recently said on RTÉ radio that he never reads reviews of his books, which means he'll hardly be reading the somewhat strange review of his latest novel, Ancient Light, in the current issue of The New Yorker.

It's strange mainly because veteran critic Joan Acocella, who usually writes about dance for the magazine, sees fit to offer details of the author's personal life, marriage and other relationships -- including the number of children he's sired -- in her consideration of the book.

I couldn't make out why she finds this relevant to a novel in which she detects "notes of kindness" she hadn't encountered before -- indeed, in a lengthy piece she argues that what Banville has been "short on" in previous books "is plain human feeling", and she enlists the views of unnamed others that he's "a cold fish" whose "arrogance is legend".

Perhaps she's thinking of Ben Jeffery, who recently reviewed Ancient Light in the Times Literary Supplement and who mused about "the cold spirit at the core of the books -- a quality that, at its most pronounced, makes Banville a deeply unendearing writer".

Jeffery also argued that his writing "can swing towards preciousness and a feeling of empty verbosity".

The author himself would no doubt chuckle at these strictures, and not just because Ancient Light has been greeted rapturously by most critics. Here, after all, is a man who's so supremely confident of his own gifts that when he was awarded the Man Booker prize for The Sea he mischievously declared that it was "nice to see a work of art" win it.

Acocella also quotes a Paris Review interview with Banville in which, after declaring that his books were "an embarrassment and a deep source of shame", blithely added: "They're better than anyone else's, of course, but not good enough for me."

Given such chutzpah, he'd probably be vastly amused by Acocella's review -- that's if he ever gets round to reading it, which he says he won't.

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