“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happiness Is The New Black

Grilled by Mick Heaney in yesterday’s Irish edition of The Sunday Times (no interweb link, sadly), John Banville (right) plugged THE SILVER SWAN by waxing lyrical – in suitably gloomy modernist fashion, natch – about the conflicts inherent in writing crime fiction under his nom de plume of Benny Blanco, aka Benjamin Black, to wit:
For one thing, these days Banville is revelling in the freedom afforded by his guise as a crime novelist. “On the brink of old age, I’m suddenly having fun,” he says. “I didn’t realise writing novels as so easy until I became Benjamin Black – you just sit there and make it up as you go along. I mean, John Banville will work on a sentence for half a day; Benjamin just goes, ‘Bugger it, that’ll do.’”
Nice to see Banville mellowing out last, eh? Erm, not quite …
“I needed to take a serious break from what I was doing,” he says. “The road I was on was too straight, and I had to take a side road. The John Banville book I’m doing at the moment will be slightly different because of Benjamin Black. The difference will be minimal but significant. I had to stop writing in the first person and start writing, as Beckett would say, in the last person. I needed a change.”
Okay. But surely now, with two Quirke novels under his belt, the crime fiction world is his oyster with Guinness chasers, right? Nope …
“Somehow, that genre doesn’t allow for humour. And that, if anything, would drive me away from crime fiction. It’s all so bloody gloomy and deterministic. And it’s because everything is moving towards a denouement, towards a close. Life is funny because there is no end to it, it’s an open joke. But crime fiction is not like life – it can’t be, because everything is going to be explained at the end. And that doesn’t happen.”
Laugh? We almost emigrated. Still, there is some good news, folks – Banville / Black “has already completed a third Benjamin Black novel, to be serialised in the New York Times, which took him six weeks to write …”. Six weeks, according to our crude calculations, being roughly what it takes John Banville to write an entire paragraph. Ah well, quality over quantity every time, eh ? What’s that? You want it good and fast? Bloody peons …

4 comments:

colman said...

I'm undecided on whether to try these or not.......who would you most liken him to ?

Don't know about the lack of humour in crime fiction...perhaps he takes himself too seriously ?

Maybe I should wait for the NY Times thingy and read that before deciding

Declan Burke said...

Colman - For what it's worth, I can recommend CHRISTINE FALLS ... slow of pace, but a fascinating backdrop in 1950's Dublin.

Does he take himself seriously? Is the pope on first-name terms with all the bears in the woods?

Linkmeister said...

No humor (or humour)? Sheesh. The man needs to read more of Donald Westlake's books, or Lawrence Block's Bernie Rohdenbarr books, or even Emma Lathen's John Putnam Thatcher books. Unless he's biased against American authors.

BTW, Dec, The Redbreast arrived in my mailbox today. Thank you again.

Declan Burke said...

You're welcome, Steve, Link, hope you enjoy ... As for Banville and humor / humour, I think he's talking about the Great Cosmic Joke. The kind that isn't funny. Mind you, you don't have to look too hard to find that in crime fiction either ... Cheers, Dec