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Talking with Benjamin Black (and John Banville)

December 12, 2008 | 12:14 pm


Jim Ruland, a contributor to the Book Review, was in Ireland and got John Banville to sit down with him for an interview (in Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) . But the catch is that he wasn't interviewing John Banville, he was interviewing Benjamin Black, Banville's crime-writing alter ego. In some ways, it seems that Black is as much a full character as any in Banville's work. Maybe even more so. “Mr. Black doesn’t care much about the weather," he tells his interviewer, shaking off the rain.

Banville is, of course, the Booker-prize winning author of 16 books, most of them novels, all of them unabashedly literary. For years he was the literary editor of The Irish Times. Black is the pseudonym Banville has taken when writing noir-ish thrillers....

For a man juggling multiple identities, he does not affect eccentricities of dress one might expect from Dublin’s most highly regarded literary artist.

He could be a financial adviser summoned to the assistance of a beleaguered contractor, an admissions officer with some regrettable news about an application. But asked the right question, he becomes impishly furtive about this split personality that he has so brazenly cultivated....

Later, Banville tells Ruland:

“Banville is obsessed by sentences. Flaubert’s mother said about her son that he threw away his life for a mania for sentences. That’s what we do, you know. If I was asked to say what was the greatest invention of human beings I would say the sentence. I spent three, three-and-a-half hours the other day writing a paragraph. Black couldn’t do that. What you get with Banville is the result of concentration; what you get with Black is the result of spontaneity.”

Read more about the Booker Prize-winning Banville and his prickly, affectionate relationship to his alter-ego Benjamin Black on the Elegant Variation.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nuvia Ruland