John Banville


'The only function of art is to make us feel more alive'

A leading figure in contemporary literature, John Banville –who also writes crime novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black– delves into the selfish side of love

Many know him for his literary alter ego: Benjamin Black, a narrator of crime novels, but John Banville (Loch Garman, 1945) also uses his own name when writing about existentialism and human relationships. The Irish author, recognised as one of the foremost figures of contemporary literature and the winner of the 2014 Prince of Asturias prize for literature, under his pseudonym with his novel The Black-Eyed Blonde (La rossa dels ulls negres, pub. Bromera,) returns as Banville, with The Blue Guitar (La guitarra blava, Bromera), a novel that reeks of poetry portraying the selfish side of love.

Why did you decide to make the protagonist of your new novel a man who you yourself define as a “monster” ?

I didn't decide. In fact, if I look back, I can't even remember how I started writing the book, I simply remember writing it. He was already there, so I didn't have to invent him. Frankenstein wasn't waiting for anything either, the monster just appeared on his table.

The title refers to a poem by Wallace Stevens. What does the poem mean, and what is the connection to the novel?

According to Stevens, the blue guitar changes everything, and allows him to go more deeply into the process of art. Life becomes more vivid, closer, with art. The only function of art is this. It doesn't change us, it will not bring peace to the world, but it makes us more alive.

As usual, you narrate in the first person, is that to help the reader better delve into the character?

I'm not interested in writing my books for myself; I am at a distance. The first person, I think, is the most natural way to portray someone: it is a way of showing the world what the character is from within.

The book is like an explosion of feelings. Is that a way for you to express what is going on in your head?

The book is not talking about me, it is a separate being that I brought into the world. I do the same thing as a sculptor: I take a rock and it becomes a work of art. Kafka said: “The artist is the only one who has nothing to say.” In my books there are no feelings or opinions, there is nothing of mine, there are simply material things, like rocks, that I bring into the world. As a citizen I have many opinions, but as an artist I have nothing to say.

You use the protagonist to describe the selfish side of love, why this side?

Love is always about “me”. Love is a kind of hunger, a desire to see the world in a different way. It is a creature that we all want to have with us but in fact it is almost impossible to sustain. If people lived happily with love, the world wouldn't last two minutes. At least that's how I see it.

So you believed that the pain love causes helps us to survive?

Yes, certainly. It is what makes us more alive, which gives more strength to our lives and allows us to move forward.

Oliver went back to where he spent his childhood to, in a way, get his life back. Do you believe these refuges we build when we are young are important?

The child is always a good resource for the work of the artist. Baudelaire said, “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recaptured at will.” You don't need to write about childhood, but the state of being a child, this state of innocence is a magnificent starting point for the artist.

Instead of his childhood, he tries to regain his muses. Who are your muses?

My only muse is my imagination. Nothing is real until we imagine it. This is what makes the world real. Oliver, for example, creates an illusion in his head of his lover, Polly, which is far more transcendental and profound, even though he knows it is only an illusion.

The heir to Nabokov and Proust

Carla Gimeno

Born in 1945, Banville has had a long career as a novelist and screenwriter so that today he is thought of as one of the foremost figures in contemporary fiction. With his precise, forensic style and dark humour he is often compared to Nabokov and Proust, and he is also considered to be a strong contender to win the Nobel prize for literature.

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