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John Banville: Ireland's Wordsmith
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Writers; Personal profiles
Author: Arana, Marie
Date: Sep 19, 1999
Start Page: X.09
Section: BOOK WORLD

"I've always tried not to play the Irish card," says John Banville, one of the most imaginative literary novelists writing in the English language today. "The real charm of the Irish is evasiveness. Irish writers are best when they're ambiguous. Maybe I'm a sour old bastard, but I don't understand the current obsession with heart-on-the-sleeve Irish sentimentalists. I don't see myself as an `Irish writer' with a `gift of gab.' It's bad for the work. Good writing is good writing. Period."

Banville's writing is emphatically good. Excellence, in fact, may be the only predictable thing about it. His novels are anything but similar, ranging from Doctor Copernicus, a richly textured tale about the shy, sexually conflicted 16th-century scientist, to The Book of Evidence, his feverish Booker Prize-winner, narrated by a murderous madman. Banville can be dense, steamy, lyrical, cracked, but he is almost always original, having produced an array of works impossible to categorize: among them Ghosts, a contemplative story about a tour group run aground on an old man's island; Mefisto, which treats a modern-day Faust pinned between mathematics and crime; Athena, a piquant story about a woman who appears to have stepped out of her lover's canvases; and The Untouchable, about a Cambridge aesthete who turns out to be a spy.

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