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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Banville's Swing

Irish author John Banville (whose sentences sing like few other contemporary authors) has harsh things to say about English literary fiction in general and Ian McEwan's Saturday in particular.

One was unable to locate the article in question, but here's an extended quote from Rod Liddle's column in The Sunday Times:

"The Irish writer and critic John Banville recently took a swing at English literary fiction, citing a 'disturbing tendency towards mellowness'. Banville was reviewing a book by an Englishman a couple of notches up the literary ladder, Ian McEwan, but possessed nonetheless of the same debilitating traits as Nick Hornby. In his review of McEwan’s ludicrous but hugely praised Saturday, Banville put his finger on the real problem with English fiction:

'Are we in the West so shaken in our sense of ourselves and our culture, are we so disablingly terrified in the face of various fanaticisms which threaten us, that we can allow ourselves to be persuaded and comforted by such a self-satisfied and in many ways ridiculous novel as this?' He added: 'Writers must give us more than his audience asks for.'

Banville has identified the chief fault of English fictional writing: a refusal to offend and discomfort, to tell us something we had not imagined, rather than that with which we are already familiar."

Interestingly, this is the first harsh notice of McEwan's book that one has come across; even the redoubtable James Wood, writing in The New Republic, called it a "fine and affecting" novel.

Though Liddle goes on to try and salvage Martin Amis' Yellow Dog, when one was reading the book oneself, one was gripped by a strong desire to hurl it across the room. Hard.


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