October 12, 2005

Banville's Latest Takes the Booker

John Banville's The Sea won him on Monday the 50,000 GBP Man Booker Prize for Supposedly Good Writing. On the slim sales of his imposing and underappreciated 13 previous works, he can use it. For he merits the attention.

Finn Fordham writes:
Banville writes novels of complex patterning, with grace, precision and timing, and there are wonderful digressive meditations. In The Sea we hear about work and mediocrity, how "Be yourself!" actually means "Be anyone you like", on how first love can put an end to the "immanence of all things" and turn the world "into an objective entity".

He is described as a stylist. But he is really more of a ventriloquist.

Emma Brockes writes:
Banville's brilliance is his ability to pull apart the small, external triggers that cause one's huge internal movements - the boy who falls in love with a woman as she passes him an apple - without breaking the surface.
Wouldn't we all like to do that?

John Sutherland, chair of this year's prize committee, gave an intriguing assessment:
Judgment on John Banville's triumph was predictably divided. On one side there were those (in Ireland, for example) who felt it a wholly appropriate award for a writer who was now certified, on merit and achievement, to stand alongside Beckett. On the other side there were those of the Diogenes faction who declared Banville's triumph a "disaster" from which Man Booker, and indeed English fiction, might never recover. An event to rank with England failing to qualify for the World Cup.

There are, as I personally experienced it, a number of difficulties with The Sea. The English ear (mine included) sometimes has difficulty with what Banville calls "Hiberno English", the one good thing, he says, the invader left his plundered isle. The idiom of The Sea is rich. A recurrent objection is that the language gets in the way of the story (what story?). But couldn't one say the same thing about Ulysses?

Joyce's novel, for a certainty, wouldn't have won the Man Booker in 1922. That award would have gone, probably, to Arnold Bennett or HG Wells, and the prize would have been safe from "disaster", 1922-style.

The subject matter of The Sea - alcoholism, melancholy, terminal disease, family disintegration, the decay of age - does not contribute to the cheeriness of life. But neither does life, if you've lived enough of it.
[UPDATE 10/13/2005: As if to underscore the complete illiteracy of Americans, Barnes & Noble (Broadway & 84th St.) had no single one of John Banville's books in stock. Moreover, the obsequious attendant was not sanguine that there would be any in the future. I shall take my business to Amazon, avowing to never return for convenience's or any other sake.]

"High Tidings" by Finn Fordham | TheGuardian UK

"14th Time Lucky" by Emma Brockes | TheGuardian UK

"The Judge's Tale" by John Sutherland | TheGuardian UK


Post a Comment

<< Home