. x .iq . ii, B



Portrait of

the artist

Irish author John Banville talks high art and polished metaphors with Paul Houghton.

According to author and Irish 'li'mes literary editor. John Banville. the novel is the youngest of all art forms as well as the most accommodating. If. for convenience sake. we say that his new novel. Athena is a comic—noir thriller. this is hardly an adequate description; it's a novel based on a thesis. subtly laced with black humour but above all, it is a novel that refreshingly defies category and demands to be read as quality fiction should be. for itself. The writing and the ideas therein will not reduce to precis and the plot is only the skeleton beneath the flesh or what has been referred to as Banville‘s ‘rnetaphorical polish‘. Banville's manuscripts. owned by Trinity College. Dublin. show that a paragraph in his work for example. can be worked and reworked around a set of key words until it achieves that polished assurance which characterises his style. If he belongs to any tradition. he says it is to that of ‘literary artists who regard language as itself a part of the work. a magnifying lens.‘ Banville‘s work is a bridge between the classical rich metaphor. meticulous structure and the post-modprn parody. pastiche - but his position comes not from literary theory but his long—stamling interest in philosophy. ‘l'm

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as ra-‘ii-‘S-fs \\ i 7'6“ interested in the push and pull. the pact between the writer and the reader.‘ he says. ‘l.iterary theory is for necessary categorisation and historical perspective.‘ x’l/bemr is narrated by Morrow. a man with the shadow of murder in his past. Although Morrow has changed his name. he is surrounded by people who

; remember. There‘s a shady developer who wants

Morrow to authenticate a cache of dodgy paintings. his shifty sidekick with a smart dog. an underworld disguise artist. a woman who is the object ofever- shifting fantasies. and the extraordinary Aunt Corky. a vibrant old eccentric on her deathbed. Ernbroiled in a love affair which is sliding towards the sinister. Morrow has to deal with Aunt Corky’s death which veers towards agonising farce plus a planned crime that unravels as brutal comedy.

‘()ne of the first duties ofthe artist is to present a picture or illusion of the world, what it tastes and looks like.‘ says Banville. Regarding his preference in using first-person narratives he says. ‘1 have no

experience of the omniscient in the world. We only

see things and their surfaces. what looks like the world.‘ Descriptions of paintings couched in the language of an art historian’s catalogue punctuate the chapters. ‘1 wanted the contrast between the dry accounts of the paintings and the passionate narrative.‘ he says. This then is another device to illuminate the many ways one records the world. whether with intensity or aridness.

Now recognised as one of Ireland‘s finest prose writers. Banville‘s influences are European and specifically German although there are direct lines to Beckett and Joyce. Although he is not inclined to see himself as furnished with a gothic sensibility, he does admit to being ‘motivated by a sense of death' and

Athena. like much of his other work, is inhabited

with sagging ruins. picaresque characters and psychotic episodes. Not that this is in any sense a dour novel; far from it. it‘s a celebration. The writing may be a metaphor-filled swirl of coloured liquids. but the narrative clips along at a good pace; this is a page-turner for all the right reasons. ‘One writes as one writes.‘ says Banville modestly.

Athena by .lb/m Brunt/[e is published by Seeker & ll’urbm'g at £15. 99.


erm— Eighties excess

Publishers, as Joseph Connolly says are ‘on that constant Holy Grail Literature that people want to buy’ and if reaction so far to Poor Souls, Connolly’s debut novel, is anything to go by then Faber may well have found themselves a new hope for a literary unputdownable.

Poor Souls concerns itself with a Scorsese-type whirlwind of events that rip through the lives and loves of the six middle-class players in a mid- 80s setting. Hazardoust endowed with the spending power of seemingly unsympathetic representatives of the boom generation, the group are full of the corresponding neuroses, amorality and greed that assault the reader at every turn.

Barry, with his fretful machismo and


dubious future, becomes involved in a

booze-soaked present that catapults

him into some bleakly comic

situations with ultimately ruinous

results. For Moira, wife of Gavin, life at the edge of Tupperware is becoming too much and the fragile facade of

f middle-class dinner repartee begins to ;

Joseph Connolly: no apologies

For Connolly, the setting of this brutal farce is significant. ‘Greed and selfishness were seen to be quite mandatory at that point in time and so

the extreme egomania and selfishness of the people fitted in quite well.’ There is (of course) promiscuity as well as greed, and characters lurch

from unhappy marriages to

unsuccessful infidelity. “The casualness,’ says Connolly, ‘of the rather dreadful sexual encounters there are, is not really in tune with the times now.’

There is a compelling nature to the novel, a lurid display of excess that owes as much to Berkoff’s Decadence as it does to Albee’s Whose Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? This is toffee-nosed realism all right but with no morality imposed. ‘It is a novel about deceit in the sense that someone decides “I’ve got to do what I need to do now and if that involves telling libs, fine, and if those lies hurt, then tough”.’

Connolly makes no apologies for the novel’s relentless, pacey feel. like many 90$ novels recording the 80s, the condemnation is of behaviour and attitudes rather than distinct policies and politicians. ‘The characters are not lovable. I didn’t want any heroes but I didn’t want any anti-heroes either. Humour is vital because otherwise you could iust think that these people are a bunch of shits I don’t want to know.’ (Toni Davidson) Poor Souls by Joseph Connolly is 5 published by Faber and Faber at £8.99.



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