“Two Hats” was coyly presented in the 2014 KWLS program as a “conversation” between John Banville and Benjamin Black, moderated by James Gleick. As Gleick noted after taking the stage, the uninitiated would be forgiven for expecting three chairs where there were only two. It turns out, of course, that Banville—Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea, regular book reviewer for the New York Review of Books, and perennial favorite for the Nobel prize—is one and the same with Black, whose series of crime novels set in 1950s Dublin feature Quirke, a charismatic loner and the chief pathologist in the city morgue.
On the recording offered here, Gleick embraces the conceit of Banville’s dual literary identity as he questions first Black, then Banville, about their work and that of their alter egos. High-minded literary statements from Banville—”The greatest invention of humankind is the sentence”—interpolate with Black’s more workmanlike comments—”I think of it as craftsmanship. I like to think of it as a beautifully polished table”—and find resolution in a philosophy shared by both. “I hate the notion of genre,” Banville says. “It makes a ghetto, a place in bookshelves for people to avoid. There’s just fiction.” As to the cleft between Black and Banville, one of them answers: “We have this illusion that we are unitary beings. We have the notion that there is a pilot light inside us that is one’s self. I don’t believe this is the case. We’re a collection of poses, of attitudes, of versions of ourselves… We make ourselves up as we go along. This is what makes life interesting.”
From KWLS 2014: The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller.