John Banville

  • culture January 03, 2013

    On Rilke's Letters to A Young Poet

    For Rainer Maria Rilke the year 1903 did not begin auspiciously. He and his wife, the sculptor Clara Westhoff, were living in Paris, where the poet had come in order to write a monograph on Auguste Rodin. The Rilkes were not exactly dazzled by the City of Light. In a letter to his friend the artist Otto Modersohn, dated New Year’s Eve 1902, the poet spoke of Paris as a “difficult, difficult, anxious city” whose beauty could not compensate “for what one must suffer from the cruelty and confusion of the streets and the monstrosity of the gardens, people and things.” A few lines later he compares

  • culture May 29, 2012

    Canada by Richard Ford

    "Children know normal better than anyone," says Dell Parsons, the narrator of Richard Ford's luminous and utterly forlorn new novel, and certainly Dell when he was a child knew far better than most what a normal life, especially a normal American life, is likely to turn out to be. The opening sentences of the book, which are bound to go straight into the collective literary memory, tell us what he, and we, are in for: "First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."

  • Trump Cards

    Aptly, we may begin with the title. The dust jacket has it as The Original of Laura: A novel in fragments, while the title page varies this to The Original of Laura (Dying Is Fun). However, the author himself, at the top of the first of the 138 file cards on which the novel—let us call it a novel, for now—is composed, calls the book merely The Original of Laura. The subtitle A novel in fragments is easily accepted as an editor’s addendum, since the book is published posthumously, but where did (Dying Is Fun) come from? Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd tells us that The Original of Laura: Dying Is

  • Criminal Odes

    Let us see whether we can conjure up the representative readers, male and female, of pulp fiction. He is in his early forties and works as a traveling salesman—when he can get work, that is, for these are the Depression years. He wears a boxy blue suit, big black shoes with half-inch rims, a dubious tie the knot of which has not been fully undone in a long time, and a dusty brown fedora. He was born in Kansas but has moved many times. For now, he is settled in Biloxi, Mississippi, living in a frame house near the beach with a pizza waitress he met on the road somewhere outside Jackson on his