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John Banville (born 1945) is an Irish novelist and journalist. His novel, The Book of Evidence (1989), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the Guinness Peat Aviation award. His eighteenth novel, The Sea, won the Man Booker Prize in 2005. He sometimes writes under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.

Banville is known for his precise and cold prose style, Nabokov inventiveness, and for the dark humour of his generally arch narrators. His stated ambition is to give his prose "the kind of denseness and thickness that poetry has".


Banville was born in Wexfordmarker, Irelandmarker. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexfordmarker.

Educated at a Christian Brothers' school and at St Peter's College in Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university . Banville has described this as "A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free." . After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland he became a sub-editor at the Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor. His first book, Long Lankin, was published in 1970.

After the Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left. Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990. In 1984, he was elected to Aosdána, but resigned in 2001, so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas.

Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls, which was followed by The Silver Swan in 2007. Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeleymarker. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like "a murderer who's just come back from a particularly bloody killing". Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.


Banville is considered by critics as a master stylist of the English language, and his writing has been described as perfectly-crafted, beautiful, dazzling. David Mehegan of the Boston Globe calls Banville "one of the great stylists writing in English today"; Don DeLillo called his work "dangerous and clear-running prose;" Val Nolan in The Sunday Business Post calls his style "lyrical, fastidious, and occasionally hilarious" ; The Observer described his 1989 work, The Book of Evidence, as "flawlessly flowing prose whose lyricism, patrician irony and aching sense of loss are reminiscent of Lolita." Banville himself has admitted that he is "trying to blend poetry and fiction into some new form" . He is also known for his dark humour, and sharp wit.

Banville has written two trilogies; The Revolutions Trilogy, consisting of Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, The Newton Letter and a second unnamed trilogy consisting of The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, Athena.

Banville is highly scathing of his earlier work and indeed all of his work stating of his books "I hate them all ... I loathe them. They're all a standing embarrassment. Instead of dwelling on the past Banville is continually looking forward "You have to crank yourself up every morning and think about all the awful stuff you did yesterday, and how how you can compensate for that by doing better today".

Banville admitted at the Harrogate Crime Writing festival writes only about a hundred words a day when writing his literary novels while he writes his Benjamin Black novels at a rate of several thousand words a day. Banville has stated that he appreciates his work as Black as a craft while as Banville he is an artist, though he does consider crime-writing, in his own words, as being "cheap fiction".

Banville is highly influenced by Heinrich von Kleist, having written adaptations of three of his plays (including Amphitrion) and having again used Amphitrion as a basis for his novel the novel The Infinities. One of Banvilles earlier influences was James Joyce - "After I'd read the Dubliners, and was struck at the way Joyce wrote about real life, I immediately started writing bad imitations of the Dubliners"


Year Prize Work
1976 James Tait Black Memorial Prize Doctor Copernicus
1981 Guardian Fiction Prize Kepler
Allied Irish Bank Fiction Prize Kepler
American-Irish Foundation Award Birchwood
1989 Guinness Peat Aviation Award The Book of Evidence
Booker Prize (shortlisted) The Book of Evidence
2005 Booker Prize The Sea
2006 Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year The Sea
2007 Royal Society of Literature Fellowship


Short story collection

  • Long Lankin (1970; revised ed.1984)


  • Nightspawn (1971)
  • Birchwood (1973)
  • Doctor Copernicus: A Novel (1976)
  • Kepler, a Novel (1981)
  • The Newton Letter: An Interlude (1982)
  • Mefisto (1986)
  • The Book of Evidence (1989)
  • Ghosts (1993)
  • Athena: A Novel (1995)
  • The Ark (1996) (only 260 copies published)
  • The Untouchable (1997)
  • Eclipse (2000)
  • Shroud (2002)
  • Prague Pictures: Portrait Of A City (2003)
  • The Sea (2005)
  • The Sinking City (forthcoming)
  • The Infinities (2009)


  • The Broken Jug: After Heinrich von Kleist (1994)
  • Seachange (performed 1994 in the Focus Theatre, Dublin; unpublished)
  • Dublin 1742 (performed 2002 in The Ark, Dublin; a play for 9–14 year olds; unpublished)
  • God's Gift: A Version of Amphitryon by Heinrich von Kleist (2000)
  • Love In The Wars (adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea, 2005)
  • Conversation In The Mountains (radio play, forthcoming 2008)

As "Benjamin Black"

  • Christine Falls (2006)
  • The Silver Swan (2007)
  • The Lemur (2008, previously serialised in The New York Times)

Book Reviews


  1. Steinberg, Sybil." Who Is John Banville?". Publishers Weekly, July, 1995. Retrieved on 21 January 2007.
  3. Irish Examiner; September 5th 2009
  4. " The day the Press stopped rolling". Western People, 25 May 2005. Retrieved on 27 October 2007.
  5. " Former Members of Aosdána". Aosdána. Retrieved on 27 October 2007.
  6. Emma Brockes " 14th time lucky". The Guardian, 12 October 2005. Retrieved on 27 October 2007.
  7. " Shroud". Random House, 2004. Retrieved on 27 October 2007.
  8. " John Banville (1945-)". The Guardian. Retrieved on 19 October 2007.

Further reading

  • John Banville by John Kenny; Irish Academic Press (2009); ISBN 0-7165-2909-1
  • John Banville, a critical study by Joseph McMinn; Gill and MacMillan; ISBN 0-7171-1803-7
  • The Supreme Fictions of John Banville by Joseph McMinn; (October 1999); Manchester University Press; ISBN 0-7190-5397-8
  • John Banville: A Critical Introduction by Rüdiger Imhoff (October 1998) Irish American Book Co; ISBN 0-86327-582-6
  • John Banville: Exploring Fictions by Derek Hand; (June 2002); Liffey Press; ISBN 1-904148-04-2
  • Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies: Special Issue John Banville Edited by Derek Hand; (June 2006)

External links

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