He was cramped and cold, with a vile gum of sleep in his mouth (page 3, Kepler).
Doors standing ajar like that have always filled me with unease; they seem so knowing and somehow suggestive, like an eye about to wink or a mouth opening to laugh (page 11, Athena)
As this review of The Sea puts it
The single-character narration with almost no other character dialogue is an effective technique. The reader and the narrator -- Max, in this case -- are entirely as one, experiencing everything simultaneously. There's no way to jump ahead and no time to reflect on what's been. Banville forces the reader to stay with him, to whirl and twirl through Max's emotions as he pieces his story together. It's up the reader to keep the hell up.
Banville's phrasing demands attention. Every single sentence is just like those quoted above, rich and textured, like glitter they simultaneously twinkle and flash and explode with significance. These sentences can be complex, stuffed to paragraph-length with visual and emotional description.
Or they can be as simple and effective. "The past beats inside me like a second heart," Banville writes at the close of Max's initial reverie. In nine words, the author sums up just why Max is compelled to reflect, while evoking the novel's entire theme.
Guardian review of The Sea here.
Tim Conley, in his article on Banville writes
Inevitably, Banville’s narrators are articulate males who, for one reason or another, conscious or no, hesitate and prevaricate. For example, in The Book of Evidence, Freddie, who otherwise has a mind for details even of the most ghastly kind, refers to his encounter with someone known as “the American”: “I refer to him as the American because I did not know, or cannot remember, his name, but I am not sure that he was American at all.” That subtle shift in tense from “did not” to “cannot” and the added qualifications of “but” and “at all” are signature examples of Banville’s habit of bit-by-bit negation. A fact is offered and then cancelled, a story related and then dismissed as manufactured and irrelevant. As solid as the images in his elaborate pictures appear to become with study – so many tantalizing paintings populate the author’s works – Banville now and again strokes the frame and throws us back into uncertainty.
John Banville's works include:
Long Lankin (1970, comprised of nine short stories and a novella, revised in 1984); Nightspawn (1971); Birchwood (1973); the scientific tetralogy - Doctor Copernicus (1976), Kepler (1981), The Newton Letter (1982), Mefisto (1986); the grim trilogy - The Book of Evidence (1989), Ghosts (1993), and Athena (1995); Untouchable (1998); Eclipse (2000); Shroud (2003); The Sea (2005). This list has more works mentioned along with publication dates.
A quick summary of widespread opinion on Banville's works:
- Focus on style rather than plot
- Artistic imagination and bold confessions mark most of his books
- Single person narration - usually male - exploring a major problem through complex thought processes
- Reasoning tosses back and forth - professing and contradicting with subtle use of voice, tense and other stylistic tools
- Fascination for naming protagonists with an 'M' name - Morden shows up in more than one book
I am going to root for Banville while waiting to see what October (Monday 10 October - Booker Winner will be announced at Guildhall) brings. Funnily, my gut feeling is pointing all its arrows at Zadie Smith. Que sera sera.