Talking With Booker Prize Winner John Banville

Trouble is his business: Noir alter-ego Benjamin Black returns with The Silver Swan

You have written, in an essay on your process, that you start with a form, a shape. Is that still true of these Benjamin Black novels? They seem to start with an atmosphere. Yes, I think that's true: They do start with an atmosphere, a sense of time and place. A John Banville book does start with a kind of tension in my mind, then I feel it out and give it characters and plot. But these start from an atmosphere, as you said. That's good—I must remember that.

You've professed to have "little or no interest in characters, plot, motivation, manners, politics, morality, or social issues . . ." John Banville hasn't.

But Benjamin Black has. Yes, he has.

Conjuring Dublin noir: Banville/Black
Alana Cundy
Conjuring Dublin noir: Banville/Black

So in writing as Benjamin Black, you can take up themes or issues that may not have been of interest before, you can write much more quickly. Are there other attendant freedoms? Well, looking back, I realized that becoming Benjamin Black wasn't quite the jeu d'esprit that I thought it was at the time. It was a kind of frolic, but I see too that John Banville needed a change—he needed something to shake him out of the first-person novel. Christine Falls was the real transition book. So the book I'm writing now—the John Banville book—the new one I'm working on is mostly in the third person, and it's a very different book. It's a kind of bittersweet erotic comedy. It's set in a house in the countryside on Midsummer's Day. The only first-person voice in it is the god Hermes. My publishers heard this and said: "Oh, yes, John. Another crowd-pleaser."

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