Banville in the Borders

By Niall McArdle


“I think I am a simple soul, easily pleased.” John Banville

I was planning on posting something else about Bloomsday today. I found this interesting article about how some Dubliners regard the novel that made the city famous, but I don’t really think there’s much here that most Joyceans don’t already know.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about John Banville, mostly because I finally got a chance to catch up on the Quirke television adaptation (detailed review to follow soon, but I was sadly underwhelmed, not because it isn’t well-made or decently acted, but it seemed to miss the essence of the Benjamin Black books). Black has also been on my mind as I am trying to get hold of a copy of his take on Raymond Chandler, The Black Eyed Blonde.


I stumbled upon a wonderful piece from a year ago in The Guardian (by way of a brilliant book blog, The Elegant Variation)


Banville has annotated a copy of his Booker-winning novel, The Sea. Scribbling in the margins of books is one of those topics that bitterly divides readers: you either love doing it and think it helps in understanding and appreciating the author’s intent, or you loathe it and the idea makes your stomach turn.

Banville seems overjoyed to be able to scrawl all over his own work. “Nice, the opportunity to deface one of my own books.” The thought of Banville overjoyed at anything is something to ponder, and even here in what must have seemed a frivolous exercise, his trademark wit is evident. He considers calling one of his characters Mr Todd “rather a limp joke” (not “simple” as The Guardian has it). Irish readers will be happy to learn that the novel’s Strand Cafe is “In reality the Beach Cafe in Rosslare. Run by a splendid middle-aged woman with red hair and muscular arms. Mrs Butler?”


Years ago he signed my copy of Mefisto, and I see his distinctive handwriting hasn’t changed. Are there any graphologists out there who would care to decipher his personality from his elegant copperplate?

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