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“Language is in control of us”

“Language is in control of us”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Booker Prize winner John Banville opens writing centre at FASoS

“Writing starts with a sense of a tension, which gets into my head. A friend and writer once said to me: ‘I have that scream in my head and I need to get rid of it, in a manner that is as beautiful and elegant as possible.’”

This is how Man Booker Prize winner John Banville explained how a new story of his is born.  Last Thursday, the Irish writer was interviewed in the Turnzaal, on the occasion of the official opening of the Centre for Contemporary Writing (FASoS/Zuyd Hogeschool). The centre will provide research and teaching expertise in creative writing and contemporary literature as well as professional writing such as journalism.

Banville (1945) is interviewed by Elke D’Hoker, associate professor at the University of Leuven and a connoisseur of Banville’s oeuvre. The interview fails to come to life. D’Hoker assumes too much knowledge to be present in the audience and she is first and foremost an admirer rather than a challenging interviewer. She forgets to incite the writer, who is sitting far too comfortably in his chair.

Apart from his literary stature (he is regarded as an heir of Proust and Nabokov), Banville is the perfect candidate for opening a writing centre, because he is an all-rounder. He doesn’t just write novels, poems and plays, but also film scripts and thrillers. These crime novels, published under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black, were supposed to secure him a pension, he says, but unfortunately that failed. However, a few thrillers have been broadcast by the BBC, in the TV series Quirke.

Writing is “a constant struggle with language,” he says. “It speaks in itself and is in control of us. In fact, we are spoken through it. That makes it fascinating. And does the idea shape the sentence or the other way around? I really don’t know. I often allow myself to be led by the rhythm of the sentence, the one sentence shaping the next. So reading becomes a delightful falling through the page.” His ex-wife described him during the writing process as being like “a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”.

The Sea (2005), for which he received the Booker Prize, is his most famous work. The main character is art historian Max Morden, who - after his wife’s death - returns to a village on the coast where he spent his holidays when he was young. The book was filmed in 2013, with Charlotte Rampling playing one of the roles, but Banville wasn’t pleased with the result. “Despite the wonderful cast and lots of money, the film didn’t work. Making a movie is extraordinary difficult, in part because many people are involved.”

With reluctance, put on or not, he reads a few pages from his book (with a painter as the main character) that will be published in September. “Must I,” he asks desperately. “Nobody wants to hear it, I assure you. It’s like singing at a wedding where all the guests are drunk.”

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