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Banville, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1945-    ) Irish author active from an early age, his first book being a collection of stories, Long Langkin (coll 1970), followed by Nightspawn (1971), each of these nonfantastic titles focusing variously on twins and their complex interplayings, a focus which would characterize much of his work from this point; he also writes nonfantastic crime novels [not listed here] as by Benjamin Black. Edging toward the fantastic, the novels assembled in the Revolutions sequence, comprising Doctor Copernicus (1976), Kepler (1981) and The Newton Letter: An Interlude (1982 chap), interrogate their protagonists through experiments in unreliable narration and stabs at analysis-interminable speculations about science. Mefisto (1986) explores metaphorically the Faust myth through a protagonist's search for the meaning of the world as expressed through a mathematical quest. Questionings of the nature of Identity inherent in these early novels are intensified in several later tales, where topoi out of Fantastika in general are put tentatively through their paces, particularly in the loose Cleave sequence including Eclipse (2000), where ghosts leave messages from the future and Shroud (2002), where (not for the first time in Banville's career) impostures and Doppelgangers feature, as they do by implication in a third volume, Ancient Light (2012).

Of more direct sf interest is The Infinities (2009), whose mathematician protagonist unlocks routes to Parallel Worlds in an infinite universe; on one of these worlds, we eventually learn, the novel is actually set. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that gods are real in this world, and the Greek story of Amphitryon, whose wife Alcmene is seduced by Zeus in the likeness of her husband, unfolds on lines that may or may not double the original lost play of Sophocles; but certainly reflects Amphitryon (1807) by Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) which, by focusing on Alcmene's inability to distinguish between god and man in her bed, reinvokes Banville's reiterative obsession with problems of identity. [JC]

William John Banville

born Wexford, Ireland: 8 December 1945

works (selected)




  • Eclipse (London: Bridgewater Press, 2000) [Cleave: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Shroud (London: Pan Macmillan/Picador, 2002) [Cleave: hb/]
  • Ancient Light (London: Pan Macmillan/Picador, 2012) [Cleave: hb/f]

individual titles

  • Mefisto (London: Secker and Warburg, 1986) [hb/]
  • The Infinities (London: Pan Macmillan/Picador, 2009) [hb/from Pablo Picasso]


previous versions of this entry

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