Quest for God in the Novels of John Banville 1973-2005

Author: McNamee, Brendan
John Banville’s protagonists long for a sense of completion that neither their own psyches nor the phenomenal world can satisfy. The novels, as works of art, enact a literary analogy of this tension by displaying elements of realism and postmodernism together: while they are written with an intense care for mimetic detail, they clearly accept the postmodern position on the inability of language to apprehend reality. Tensions of form and tensions of content are thus inextricably entwined to produce fictions that evoke an indefinable otherness while yet remaining firmly grounded in quotidian reality.

This reading is traced through four main themes: elucidation of the symbiotic link between the terms “significance” and “meaning”; the idea of the divided self; the centrality of conflict; and the way in which all of these themes, filtered through the author’s unique style, show how Banville’s oeuvre can be seen to form a cultural and psychic bridge between mysticism and postmodernism. Banville’s art portrays human consciousness in its perennial bind of being forever trapped in language and forever yearning to make language coincide with its silent other.


“Dr. Brendan McNamee’s book offers a comprehensive survey of John Banville’s elegant and enigmatic fictions, and incorporates a powerful and coherent argument for new ways of reading Banville’s literary fiction as an intrinsically theological or mystical activity that disrupts the assumptions of a rational, scientific modern world-view … The book combines thematic and chronological focus, and indicates a clear progression in Banville’s art and career right up to, and including, his most recently published novel, The Sea. The dedication of separate chapters to single novels is highly effective and the summaries and appraisals of individual novels are consummately well done in every instance …” – (from the Preface) Professor Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, University of Ulster

“ … this work positions itself appropriately and with some critical edge in the context of Banville criticism debates within postmodernism and relevant themes in the European philosophical tradition from Heraclitus to Heidegger. It makes appropriate and accurate selective reference to theological doctrines, ideas of the sacred and the mystical tradition in Christianity. This work embodies conceptual originality, intellectual subtlety, literary insight and sustained independent effort of a high order …” – Professor Norman Vance, University of Sussex

“This book on Banville strikes me as an important intervention, taking in hand the whole question of ‘fictions’ in his literary creations in the philosophical sense of imagined realities, which are at one and the same time invented and transcendent. This is a crucial issue in regards to Banville since he is no mere fantasist and yet is a writer immensely amenable to the sort of post-modernist analysis associated with the name and writings of Jean François Lyotard … This study is bound to be embraced by the critical community concerned as an important intervention …” – Dr. Bruce Stewart, University of Ulster

Table of Contents

Preface by Elmer Kennedy-Andrews
1. The Scandal of the Particular: Tracing the Sacred from Mysticism to Postmodernism
2. Truffles and Muck: Birchwood
3. “Rapturous Grief” : Doctor Copernicus and Kepler
4. “Another Version of Silence” : The Newton Letter
5. Sacred Chaos: Mefisto
6. Missing the Mark: The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, Athena
7. Malign Inversions: The Untouchable
8. Necessary Angels: Eclipse and Shroud
9. Time Enough for Love: The Sea