Tuesday, February 26, 2008


This blog will be on a break while I cope with upcoming challenges. As a friend of mine put it, March will be the first month of the rest of your life! I guess she meant 'rest out of your life'! Anyway I have some labour to attend to, so wish me luck and I shall catch you in a few months.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More Banville...

The other Banville lover (former cynic who did not want The Sea to win the Booker...hmph) goes ga ga after reading what K had to say.

Also, forgot to quote K on her favourite Banville works and her recos for new readers:

The favorites are: The Book of Evidence, The Untouchable, Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, Athena.
The ones that are worthy of read, but probably won't "strike a chord" are: Mefisto, The Sea, The Newton Letter.
Can't possibly be called literature, still is pretty darn good - Christine Falls. (as Benjamin Black)

I disagree with K about The Newton Letter and The Sea because I thought they both struck a chord with me. But I guess that The Book of Evidence flavour needs to wear off completely for these two books to find some mind space.

Also, to quote from a blog (TEV) I admire immensely (the link leads to Mark Sarvas' interview of John Banville):

TEV: Well, I know that when people come to me and ask me which of your books they should read and why they should read them, I tell them that about this thwarted quest for authenticity.

JB: If they asked you what book to start with, what would you say?
(TEV Note: Herein follows a brief shocked silence followed by much unseemly stammering in which we desperately try – and fail – to avoid the wrong answer.)

TEV: (fumbling) I'm usually useless in that I usually end up suggesting three or four …
JB: (vaguely disappointed) Oh.

TEV: (continuing) … in that one of the things I'll do is point to the one that I read first, which is Eclipse. I came to it on the strength of a very positive review in the New York Review of Books, which you may recall. I also tend to recommend based on what I know about the reader, which can bring me to The Book of Evidence or The Untouchable … Oddly – and it's hard for me to say I have a favorite because it shifts –

JB: Oh no, I don't mean your favorite. I mean which would you say to someone, This would be a good place to start?

TEV: The Book of Evidence, I would say, because it's quite self-contained or –

JB: I would say The Newton Letter.

TEV: (of course, we knew that all along) The Newton Letter.

JB: It's pretty well all there. And it's short.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why does John Banville appeal to you?

Once in a while I pester K with a question. She first reminds me that I am baiting her and then, unfailingly, obliges by grabbing the bait. What follows below is her reply to my most recent question on John Banville. I warned her that I might convert it into a guest post and accustomed as she is to my threats, she granted me the indulgence as always.

Her words reassure (to me) the importance of reading and writing in individual development. No matter what the content or the form, words have the power to stretch at least one mind from its present dimensions. And so, we write, we read, we reply, we grow.
It is rather interesting to think that over the half dozen books I read last year, atleast three-fourths were by John Banville. The only 'break' from Banville was reading The Emperor's Children and The Common Reader series – just to see if other writers appeal to me the way Banville does. No, they don't. My Banville spree isn't over yet. I have Eclipse and Ghosts lined up next longing for a couple of four day weekends so that I can read in peace. Peace. Is that what I feel when I read a Banville book? What is it in his writing that draws me and makes me read more? You wanted to know "why the book appealed to you or why the author appeals to you, whatever." The answer to that, I'm afraid is tortuous. If there can be an answer at all. Most of what I wish to say might seem sentimental, but I remember Banville's words: "If you write honestly, you will not be sentimental..."

You probably read Banville because he is a stylish writer. Yes, he is. I fail to associate with that line of thought, though. Or rather, I fail to see how stylish prose alone would appeal to me. I have never been able to partake in the style or substance argument ever, because I can't see either side's point. You probably write down Banville words, because they are rarely used by anyone save Banville. I do that too, but that ends up being an amusing activity, a digression, that is all. I have made note of interesting and uncommon names appearing in fiction beginning with the letter O and a chunk of them coming from Trollope. But do I devour Trollope? No. He doesn't even come to my mind when someone asks me who my favorite writers are.

I remember us talking about the art connection to his books too. Yes, indeed. Bonnard in The Sea. Poussin in The Untouchable. I can distinctly recall those references to Chirico's sharp shadows and Magritte's clouds and Vermeer's portraits in Athena. Those are the finest descriptions of art I've read. Remember those seven elaborate descriptions of artwork that are fictitious? I couldn't for a second believe it was meticulously constructed forgery. His enthusiasm is contagious. And then the inter-textual allusions. I never understand those, except on very rare occasions. Nor do I take the trouble of searching for those allusions so that all pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. When I come across such activities, I make a note to pursue that myself, but I give up eventually. But are these a good enough reasons to revisit his books? Savour it the way I do now?

I realize that reading Banville is a kind of self-discovery. There were things that I felt, but couldn't understand. Or things I thought I understood, but when asked to defend or explain, I felt inadequate. Like now, like this instance when I'm trying to understand why I read his books. The first Banville book I read was The Book of Evidence, which introduced me to confessional narratives. The last Banville book I read was The Untouchable. I am not sure if you've read it: In the confessional narrative that he is so famous for, he narrates the double life of the bisexual Cambridge spy and art historian Victor Maskell. Between the two books, I don't see a world of difference. Middle aged men, trying to understand why they did those terrible crimes. What could narrators like those let me realize things about me that I don't know already? Do I enjoy confessional narratives and unreliable narrators? Do I enjoy the writers that Banville is compared to - Joyce and Beckett and Nabokov and Dostoyevsky? Joyce and Dostoyevsky I tossed aside after painful attempts, and Beckett and Nabokov I am reluctant to try. There is something I feel while reading Banville, which just doesn't happen when I'm reading anyone else.

I once scoffed when some one said books are aphrodisiacs. I considered it unholy, and I looked down upon that statement as though the speaker had committed sacrilege. But that is the closest any one can ever describe a Banville book. Some might find his style seductive and hold on to it. Yes, I find it attractive. But I realize I read him because I am curious about knowing myself. Some might call it "the book speaks down to me". No, it doesn't. That would be an inaccurate description. Impossible though it may sound, between those several passages of verbal jesting and ironic descriptions of the world around him, Banville writes that odd sentence every now and then, that makes me acutely feel, well, that electric throb and tingle.
"I am done with blaming anyone for anything. Except myself, that is. No, no end to that", he wrote in Athena. At that wee morning hour, as I held that book in my hand, I had magically transformed to the raving madman of a narrator. I shuddered as I read that. "But you tried to discard the commonplace truths for the transcendent ideals, and so failed." This was a few months before the Athena experience happened. Doctor Copernicus, it was. That instance, as I read these words across the printed page, I felt a voice in my head speak those words down to me simultaneously. It was something buried deep in me, some truth about myself, and it came out when I read those words. How could I ever do justice to how I felt then? How could I ever write about that experience which was at once exciting and frightening? "It is at such moments that I am most acutely aware of my conscious self, and feel the electric throb and tingle, the flimsiness and awful weight, of being a living, thinking thing." I can borrow his words.

PS: I read him because I am curious about knowing myself, wrote K. When I first read Banville a decade ago (I started with The Book of Evidence too), what stayed with me was the feeling that this man was documenting my mind. And that is why there was immense joy when he was shortlisted for and ultimately chosen as the winner of The Man Booker 2005. His style and his language deserve plentiful praise but one does not remember his books for merely those reasons as K rightly points out. So there, after a long long time, a post I loved putting up on this blog.