8 de febrer de 2017

'Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir' book review: Banville's journey down memory lane

[Sunday Times, 07.02.2017]

Tymon Smith

After 45 years as an awarded and celebrated British novelist, 71-year-old John Banville has produced 'Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir', a quietly beautiful book that is part memoir, part travelogue, and part history of the literary city of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan.

For years Dublin represented a daunting challenge for Banville as a writer - too shadowed by Joyce and Beckett to be the setting for any of his novels until he started writing crime fiction under the pseudonym Benjamin Black in 2006, setting his books in the world of Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s.
But as a young man growing up in the nearby town of Wexford, making weekly family trips to the city and later as a teenage resident struggling to discover the writing voice that many these days have linked with Nabokov and Proust, the city had an undeniable influence on Banville in spite of its long absence in his work.
Time Pieces is a brief but incisive guide to the city and its influence on the author. Dublin's contribution to literature presents Banville as the perfect intellectual tour guide - full of incisive historical footnotes, elegantly observed personal anecdotes and the brilliantly imaginative similes and metaphors that have made the city's chronicler one of the most celebrated writers of his age.
The book is smartly accompanied by photographs by Paul Joyce, which use Banville's memories as a departure point without resorting to sentimental effects. Time Pieces is ultimately a treatise on memory which navigates the problems of the universal question that Banville poses in its first chapter: "What is the magic that is worked upon experience, when it is consigned to the laboratory of the past, there to be shaped and burnished to a finished radiance? Time's alchemy works in a bright abyss."
In giving his audience an insight into his personal history Banville delivers a work that is commendable for its lack of ego. It is provocative in its broader considerations of questions that all artists must face at some point in their careers.
The genius of the overall experience is how Banville manages to, in prose, paint himself as the ultimate guide - through not just the history of his beloved and so much written-of city, but also through his development as a precise and piercing contemporary writer.
His memories of his unrequited love for a Protestant woman, Stephanie Delahaye, are unforgettable for the way in which his observations of her family dinners create a scenario that is both a testament to his own uniquely rendered memory and relatable to any reader who has ever been in the same quandary.
We learn as much about Banville as we do about the fascinating and often deeply ironic story of Dublin - a city that provided solace for so many artists while also being inescapably affected by the violence of the history of the country in which it was built.
It is a city of ghostly shades not just in the memory of Banville but in the tales which he tells as he guides the reader. It is also a city which led to the awakening of the author's first tickles of lust, unshackled by the freedom that he found alone in the big city, beyond the restrictions of his parents and their home in the countryside.
The Dublin that you may find today is not the Dublin of Banville's memory. But the description of it that is contained in the book is one which will be remembered for some time for its clarity of writing and its thoughtful posing of a broader question: "When does the past become the past? How much time must elapse before what merely happened begins to give off the mysterious, luminous glow that is the mark of true pastness?"

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