Friday 20 April 2018

Banville's dark side to the fore

John Boland

Benjamin Black will be interviewed by critic Michael Wood during the forthcoming Kilkenny Arts Festival, but a piece in last Saturday's Guardian suggests that he'd rather be chatting to his alter ego, John Banville.

The latter revealed that while driving into Dublin from Howth on a rain-washed day in March 2005 he suddenly decided to turn an unmade television series that he had written about 1950s Ireland into a novel.

This caused him to stop the car immediately and to laugh: "It was a loud laugh, unsteady, and sounded, even to my own ears, slightly maniacal. Thinking back now, I realise it was less a laugh than the birth cry of my dark and twin brother Benjamin Black."

Thus he found himself in the tower of a Tuscan writers' retreat, "setting out or, more prosaically, sitting down to become someone else". And within a couple of hours as Benjamin Black he had written 1,500 words, "a total it would have taken the poor drudge Banville a week to achieve, if he was lucky".

But even more importantly, "suddenly I had made myself other. A folly, yes: a folie a deux". And this leads him to embrace his doppelganger:

"Come, Benjamin, put your arm around me and we shall be comfortably one, mon semblable -- mon frere."

Yes, Michael Wood might well feel that three's a crowd in Kilkenny on August 12. In the meantime, you'll find the full Banvillian rhapsody about his shadowy twin on the Guardian website.


Other literary events at the Kilkenny festival include an afternoon with Patrick McCabe and Dermot Healy, introduced by Colm Toibin, and an evening with Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley, introduced by Olivia O'Leary.

The same RTE radio essayist will also be introducing Morgan Kelly, the forthright UCD professor whose bleakly accurate economic predictions were derided by Bertie Ahern. His lecture, 'What Happened to Ireland?', takes place in St Canice's Cathedral next Saturday.

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