Arts & Culture

Author reads from ‘bleeding chunk’ of novel

Contributing Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011

By Alexandra Macfarlane Contributing Writer “I should like to fall in love again, just one more time,” says the narrator in John Banville’s latest novel, from which he read Tuesday evening in Salomon 001. The renowned Irish novelist and winner of the 2005 Man Book Prize captivated the audience and left aspiring writers eager to put pen to paper.

Robert Coover, visiting professor of literary arts and long time friend of Banville, described him as “a metafictional stylist in the manner of his countrymen Joyce and Beckett, playful in his constructions as Nabokov” in a written introduction. While Coover was unable to attend the reading, Gale Nelson, assistant director of the Literary Arts Program, read the introduction in his place.

Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland in 1945. As a young man, he wished to be a visual artist and architect — a fact that must influence “the painterly and structural qualities” of his prose, Coover wrote.

He has written almost 20 books to date, three of them comprising a trilogy written from the perspective of a convicted killer, Freddie Montgomery. He also writes crime fiction under the pen name Benjamin Black.

On taking the stage, Banville read what he called a “bleeding chunk” from a draft of his newest book, which has yet to be titled or finished.

Banville began his reading with a quote which set the tone for the evening: “Words have no shame and are never surprised.”

The three portions of Banville’s draft centered around a man in his mid-60s from a small town in Ireland who is remembering an affair he had as a 15-year-old. “Billy Grey was my best friend,” he read, “and I fell in love with his mother.” The prose was nostalgic, humorous and charming with a clear narrative voice that painted strong images in the heads of the audience.

At one point, Banville read about the sensation a man has at any age when he sees the “secret parts” of a woman. The narrator explains that the rush of both emotions and blood a man experiences could never compare to the way a woman might feel.

Banville’s words were adept at describing both scenes and emotions seamlessly. For example, the author read from a passage describing the initial moments after his first sexual encounter with Mrs. Grey. “I stood amazed at the risks she took, adrift in a daze of tenderness,” Banville read.

More humorously, Banville’s reading included a passage detailing the boy’s initial confession to his local priest after he sleeps with Mrs. Grey. Both characters are eagerly discussing the narrator’s sinful coitus. The priest asked the boy if he touched her leg and the boy replied yes. The priest said, “High on the leg?” and the boy replied, “Very high.”

After the reading, Banville remained on stage for a question and answer period, which he described as “a dreadful existential moment” for those who wanted to ask a question.

Banville was asked about his relationship as a writer with his own narrators. He told the audience that his narrators have become more and more removed from himself. “I dislike my narrators. They are too fastidious for their own good,” he said.

Despite this assertion, Banville’s humor and humility mirror that of his narrator. When asked why he came to Brown, Banville said, “Well, I was invited.” The fact that he is an award-winning novelist never seemed to cross his mind.