Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Of Irish Interest

Dissenting from the general words of praise for John Banville's The Sea, winner of the Man Booker Prize, New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani delivers one of her occasional slams:

Any one of these novels [On Beauty, Never Let Me Go, Saturday] would have been a worthy recipient of Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction. Instead, the judges last month awarded the prize to John Banville's novel "The Sea" - a stilted, claustrophobic and numbingly pretentious tale about an aging widower revisiting his past ... [Banville's] novels have tended to be willfully lapidary works, filled with dense, pictorial descriptions and recondite words and allusions: think of a self-conscious attempt to wed Joyce to Nabokov to Wim Wenders ...

Max, a would-be art historian who has lived off Anna's inherited fortune, seems to have spent his copious amounts of free time gazing at his own navel and thinking very big thoughts about very little ...

Equally irritating is Max's penchant for describing and redescribing everyone in his life and everything he sees in minute physical detail that radiates a prissy disgust for the human body ...

Though "The Sea" may deal with some of the gravest issues of life - death, loss, regret - it remains, in the end, a chilly, dessicated and pompously written book that stands in sharp contrast to the vibrancy of many of this year's other Booker nominees.

With Trinity's debating societies livening things up by bringing over Americans to argue about controversial issues, any chance of them hosting a debate about Banville's book with Michiko battling the locals on its merits?

UPDATE 2 NOV: The NYT returns to the critical reaction to Banville's Man Booker, noting the hostility of many reviewers including Michi's above, that the Booker panel chairman John Sutherland had feuded with Banville in the NY Review of Books but voted for him anyway, and that Banville doesn't care that people don't like him, explaining his style in terms of his Irishness:

He says he is puzzled by the thought that his books are somehow too dense or opaque.

"I'm constantly being accused of being elitist," he said. "But I write quite easy, approachable books." He has an autodidact's love of language and a writing style he describes as informed by his Irishness.

"English writers for the most part try to follow Orwell's dictum that prose should be a pane of clear glass through which you look," he said. "But Irish writers think of prose style as a distorting lens. We love that ambiguity; we love that a word can have three or four meanings at the same time."

He added: "We're a language-based society. You can get away with practically anything in this country if you give a good account of it."

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