John Banville & Benjamin Black: ‘Two Hats’

James Gleick and John Banville, a.k.a. Benjamin Black.

Friday evening’s John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Event, entitled “Two Hats,” was coyly presented in the KWLS program as a “conversation” between John Banville and Benjamin Black, moderated by James Gleick. As Gleick noted after taking the stage, the audience 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.

Gleick embraced the conceit of Banville’s dual literary identity as the interview proceeded. How would Banville, the noted reviewer of Kafka, Rilke, and Vargas Llosa, assess the works of Benjamin Black? What does Black, a quick-working craftsman who has authored eight novels, think of the famously painstaking John Banville? And where, if at all, do the two dissimilar writers meet?

The full conversation will soon be available in our audio archives. In the meantime, a few highlights from the event in image and word:

John Banville on the novels of his alter-ego, Benjamin Black: “It’s a different way of working. It’s craftsmanship. I like to think of it as a beautifully polished table that you can use but also admire.”

John Banville: “A sentence can always be better. That’s the point of art. You keep striving to make it better, to get the perfect ringing sentence.”

John Banville: “I’m the only material I have. I’m the only person I know from the inside.”

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