08 November 2009

John Banville

John Banville's prose was a considerable influence early this year, in its intensity. Beginning with Eclipse and The Sea, then reading into The Revolutions Trilogy, books on Copernicus, Kepler and Newton. I confess I have not yet finished Doctor Copernicus, but it has had especial influence. It shares with other Banville work his 'literariness'; his visual, visceral, emotional tugging; the precision, clarity and obscurity:

Waterborne he comes, at dead of night, sliding sleek on the river's gleaming back, snout lifted, sniffing, under the drawbridge, the portcullis, past the drowsing sentry. Brief scrabble of claws on the slimed steps below the wall, brief glint of a bared tooth. In the darkness for an instant an intimation of agony and anguish, and the night flinches. Now he scales the wall, creeps under the window, grinning. In the shadow of the tower he squats, wrapped in a black cloak, waiting for dawn. Comes the knocking, the pinched voice, the sly step on the stair, and how is it that I alone can hear the water dripping at his heels?

One that would speak with you, Canon.

No, no keep him hence...

John Banville, Doctor Copernicus, in The Revolutions Trilogy, Picador Edition 2001, page 107
Welcome to the fever-wracked world of Canon Koppernigk in the misery of the Baltic states 500 years ago.

These points:
  • if you don't love language, read someone else
  • if you need to understand everything or think you do or should, or expect a story unravelling in chronological order, then what kind of reality do you live in? Give me mystery or give me death :-)
  • key things in Doctor Copernicus for me were:
  1. the portrayal of the pain and conflict of genius and the possession of new ideas
  2. the presentation of a reality in which the genius with the new ideas has to do a whole lot of other things, like, in this case, governing and doctoring and churching and being mortal and physical variously
  3. the beauty of story driving itself along in its own smoking rhythm
  4. oh yeah, ok, ok, also its complexity, I do love the complexity, though it makes it hard to finish when you are reading half a dozen books at a time, or part-time.