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John William Banville Edit Profile

also known as Benjamin Black

novelist , screenwriter , adapter of dramas

William John Banville, recognised for his precise, cold, forensic prose style, Nabokovian inventiveness, and for the dark humour of his generally arch narrators, Banville is considered to be "one of the most imaginative literary novelists writing in the English language today." Banville is considered by critics as a master stylist of English, and his writing has been described as perfectly crafted, beautiful, dazzling.


William John Banville was born to Agnes (née Doran) and Martin Banville, a garage clerk, in Wexford, Ireland. He is the youngest of three siblings. His older brother Vincent is also a novelist. His sister Anne Veronica "Vonnie" Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a memoir of growing up in Wexford.


Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university. Banville has described this as "A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love".


Banville says that he started writing novels at the age of 12. His early attempts were "dreadful imitations" of Joyce's Dubliners; the opening line of one was, "The white May blossom swooned slowly into the open mouth of the grave".


  • non-fiction

    • Prague Pictures: Portrait of a City

  • novels

    • Nightspawn, Birchwood, The Revolutions Trilogy, Mefisto, The Book of Evidence,Ghosts , Athena, The Ark, The Untouchable, Eclipse, Shroud, The Sea, The Infinities, Ancient Light

  • plays

    • The Broken Jug,Seachange,Dublin 1742,God's Gift,Love in the Wars,Love in the Wars

  • short story collection

    • Long Lankin


He is essentially a religious type. In his teens he gave up Catholicism, and at the same time he started writing. Writing keeps him at his desk, constantly trying to write a perfect sentence. It is a great privilege to make one’s living from writing sentences. The sentence is the greatest invention of civilization. To sit all day long assembling these extraordinary strings of words is a marvelous thing. He couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s as near to godliness as he can get.


His political views are clearly seen in his works.


The novelist Tibor Fischer summed up the general view on Banville's influences when he said, "You can sense the volumes of Joyce, Beckett and Nabokov on Banville's shelves." Banville himself has acknowledged that all Irish writers are followers of either Joyce or Beckett - and he places himself in the Beckett camp. A less obvious influence, which comes through most particularly in Banville's defence of his work as art, would be the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter. Banville's memories of his childhood in Ireland are also a source of inspiration in his later work, particularly in The Sea. "Even though I am now on the brink of old age, childhood is still a source of material," he has commented.

Quotations: “The past beats inside me like a second heart.”

“Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it.”

“In order really to write one has to sink deep into the self and become lost there.”

"My traumas were Wexford, Ireland, the fifties, and especially the Catholic Church. The first thing the Catholic Church does to a child is instill guilt in his little soul, and guilt is a good thing for an artist."

“Given the world that he created, it would be an impiety against God to believe in him.”


Regarded as the most stylistically elaborate Irish writer of his generation, John Banville is a philosophical novelist concerned with the nature of perception, the conflict between imagination and reality, and the existential isolation of the individual.


  • Writers

    Henry James

    Samuel Beckett

    Vladimir Nabokov

    Heinrich von Kleist

    Franz Kafka

    Harold Pinter

    Marcel Proust

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  • Other Interests

    Favorite books:

    Ill Seen Ill Said, Samuel Beckett

    Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

    Historical Essays, Hugh Trevor-Roper

    Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke

    Ulysses, James Joyce

    Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson

    Die fröliche Wissenschaft (‘The Gay Science’), Friedrich Nietzsche

    The Tower, William Butler Yeats

    The Greeks and the Irrational, E. R. Dodds

    Dirty Snow, Georges Simenon


Banville married American textile artist Janet Dunham, and their two sons are now adults. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like "a murderer who's just come back from a particularly bloody killing". They have separated.

Banville lives with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland. They have two daughters together.

Martin Banville - Ireland - worked in a garage

His father died when Banville was in his early thirties.

Agnes (née Doran) Banville - Ireland - housewife

Yet one of the bitter ­ironies at the end of my mother's life was the fact that, as she was told by her consultant, her progressive heart failure had begun far back in her childhood, when she ­contracted rheumatic fever at the age of nine.

'Isn't it amazing,' she used to say, in sad ­wonderment. 'That something from so long ago should come back to kill me now?'