Public Cleavage Biography
William John Banville (born 8 December 1945), who writes as John Banville and sometimes as Benjamin Black, is an Irish novelist, adapter of dramas, and screenwriter. He is recognised for his precise, cold, forensic prose style, Nabokovian inventiveness, and for the dark humour of his generally arch narrators. His stated ambition is to give his prose "the kind of denseness and thickness that poetry has".
Banville's career has seen him presented with numerous awards. His novel The Book of Evidence was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Guinness Peat Aviation award in 1989. His eighteenth novel, The Sea, won the Booker Prize in 2005. He was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize in 2011 and is a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He received the 2013 Irish PEN Award at a ceremony in Dún Laoghaire on 22 February.
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 and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Anne Veronica "Vonnie" Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford.
Banville was educated at CBS Primary, Wexford, a Christian Brothers school, and at St Peter's College, 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. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free." Alternately he has stated that college would have had little benefit for him - "I don’t think I would have learned much more, and I don’t think I would have had the nerve to tackle some of the things I tackled as a young writer if I had been to university—I would have been beaten into submission by my lecturers." After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland he became a sub-editor at The Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor.
After The Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at The Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left.
A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990, Banville's first book (a collection of short stories titled Long Lankin) was published in 1970. He has disowned his first published novel, Nightspawn, once describing it as "crotchety, posturing, absurdly pretentious".
Banville has since written three trilogies; the first, The Revolutions Trilogy, focused on great men of science and consisted of Doctor Copernicus, Kepler, and The Newton Letter. The second, an unnamed trilogy consisting of The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, and Athena, focused on the power of works of art. The third trilogy comprises Eclipse, Shroud and Ancient Light, all of which concern the characters Alexander and Cass Cleave.
Beginning with Christine Falls, published in 2006, Banville has written crime fiction under the pen name Benjamin Black. He writes his Benjamin Black crime fiction much more quickly than he composes his literary novels, and he appreciates his work as Black as a craft, while as Banville he is an artist. He considers crime writing, in his own words, as being "cheap fiction".
Banville is highly scathing of all of his work, stating of his books "I hate them all ... I loathe them. They're all a standing embarrassment." Instead of dwelling on the past he is continually looking forward; "You have to crank yourself up every morning and think about all the awful stuff you did yesterday, and how you can compensate for that by doing better today." He does not read reviews of his work as he already knows – "better than any reviewer" – the places in which its faults lie.
“ Sometimes, in the middle of the afternoon if I'm feeling a little bit sleepy, Black will sort of lean in over Banville's shoulder and start writing. Or Banville will lean over Black’s shoulder and say "Oh that's an interesting sentence, let's play with that." I can see sometimes, revising the work, the points at which one crept in or the two sides seeped into each other.
Banville is considered by critics as a master stylist of English, and his writing has been described as perfectly crafted, beautiful, dazzling. David Mehegan of the Boston Globe calls him "one of the great stylists writing in English today"; Don DeLillo described his work "dangerous and clear-running prose"; Val Nolan in The Sunday Business Post calls his style "lyrical, fastidious, and occasionally hilarious"; The Observer described The Book of Evidence as "flawlessly flowing prose whose lyricism, patrician irony and aching sense of loss are reminiscent of Lolita." Banville himself has admitted that he is "trying to blend poetry and fiction into some new form". He is known for his dark humour, and sharp, wintery wit.
In five of his novels (including one as Benjamin Black), he has used the trope of a character's eyes darting back and forth "like a spectator at a tennis match." 
In 1984, he was elected to the Irish arts association, Aosdána, but resigned in 2001 so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas (annuity).
In an interview with Argentine paper La Nacíón, he described himself as a West Brit.
Banville has a strong interest in animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.
In 2011, he offered to donate his brain to The Little Museum of Dublin "so visitors could marvel at how small it was".
Banville said in an interview with The Paris Review that he liked Vladimir Nabokov's style, however he went on, "But I always thought there was something odd about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I read an interview in which he admitted he was tone deaf." He is highly influenced by Heinrich von Kleist, having written adaptations of three of his plays (including Amphitryon) and having again used Amphitryon as a basis for his novel The Infinities. Banville has reported that he imitated James Joyce as a boy: "After I'd read the Dubliners, and was struck at the way Joyce wrote about real life, I immediately started writing bad imitations of the Dubliners." However, The Guardian reports that the early Joycean influence may not have persisted, quoting the writer again: "Banville himself has acknowledged that all Irish writers are followers of either Joyce or Beckett - and he places himself in the Beckett camp." During an interview on The Charlie Rose Show in 2011, Rose asked him, "The guiding light has always been Henry James?" and Banville replied, "I think so, I mean people say, you know, I've been influenced by Beckett or Nabokov but it's always been Henry James [...] so I would follow him, I would be a Jamesian."
Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. 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". Banville lives with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland, with whom he has two daughters.
Banville famously wrote a letter to The Guardian requesting that the 1981 Booker Prize, for which he was "runner-up to the shortlist of contenders", be given to him so that he could use the money to buy every copy of the longlisted books in Ireland and donate them to libraries, "thus ensuring that the books not only are bought but also read — surely a unique occurrence."
When The Book of Evidence was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize, Banville said a friend whom he described as "a gentleman of the turf", instructed him "to bet on the other five shortlistees, saying it was a sure thing, since if I won the prize I would have the prize-money, and if I lost one of the others would win . . .But the thing baffled me and I never placed the bets. I doubt I'll be visiting Ladbrokes any time soon".
Banville was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.
In 2011, Banville was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize. Marcel Reich-Ranicki and John Calder featured on the jury. The award was worth $10,000. According to The Guardian, Banville described the award "one of the ones one really wants to get. It's an old style prize and as an old codger it's perfect for me ... I've been wrestling with Kafka since I was an adolescent" and said his bronze statuette trophy "will glare at me from the mantelpiece". Wondering while receiving congratulations from Roddy Doyle what sort of prize Kafka would have given had he been alive, Doyle said "It wouldn't have stayed still on the mantelpiece."