Bedside Table: What Is Author John Banville Reading? - The Gloss Magazine

Bedside Table: What Is Author John Banville Reading?

The Irish author and short story writer has been described as the heir to “Proust, via Nabokov” and is a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Lock-Up, published by Faber & Faber, is out now…

“Don’t laugh, but over my breakfast egg these mornings I am reading Chateaubriand’s Memoirs. François-René de Chateaubriand, courtier, statesman and writer, was born in 1768 into an aristocratic family in Saint-Malo in Brittany. Over the course of an eventful life — he died in 1848 — he witnessed three revolutions, hunted with Louis XVI, dined with George Washington, fought in various wars and instigated one himself, pitting France against Spain. He was also a great writer.

I have just got to his account of his time in America among the Iriquois tribe. His first encounter was with a score of them being taught to dance by ‘a little Frenchman, his hair all curled and powdered, scraping on a pocket fiddle. He took great pride in the nimbleness of his pupils, and indeed I have never seen such capering.’ Violet, for such was the dancingmaster’s name, was paid ‘in beaver skins and bears’ hams’. O brave New World indeed.

Also I am reading, for review, a rather tedious mock-Gothic novel, The Possessed, by Witold Gombrowicz, first published in 1939 and newly translated into English. In the summer of 1939, Gombrowicz left his native Poland on a holiday trip to Argentina, and hearing of the outbreak of war, decided to stay, and did so, until 1963. His Diaries, 1953-1969, are without doubt his masterpiece. The Possessed is supposedly funny, but I sit stony-faced before its surrealist jokes and japes.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) is John Maynard Keynes’s vituperative but masterly condemnation of the Treaty of Versailles, in which the victorious Allies imposed vengeful reparation payments on Germany, thus paving the way for the second World War. His portraits of the participants in the negotiations are superb, e.g. Clemenceau ‘throned, in his grey gloves, on a brocade chair, dry in soul and empty of hope, very old and tired, but surveying the scene with a cynical and almost impish air.’

John Banville will be in conversation with Edel Coffey and Mike McCormack at the Cúirt International Festival of Literature on Saturday, April 27, at the Townhall Theatre, Galway at 8.30pm;

The Lock-Up, by John Banville, published by Faber & Faber, is out now.


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