Even though the library spokesperson twice referred to him as “John Banfield”, Mr. Banville, aka Benjamin Black, delivered a wryly funny and occasionally self-deprecating performance last night at the Los Angeles Public Library. After beginning the night with a self-comparison to Krusty the Clown, he managed to insert his name so many times into the conversation with Tara Ison that the interview seemed to be in the third person. As far as his relationship to Benjamin Black, the pseudonym under which he wrote “his” latest book Christine Falls, he said, “it’s me on holiday – a holiday from being myself.” For those of you who love the latest incarnation of Banville, he mentioned that he has nearly finished the sequel to Christine Falls (since the first one only took him a few months to write, I suppose a quick sequel should be expected).
The best part of the night was watching him drift away from questions – offering an anecdote or addressing a tangential issue – but then he would always swing back and directly address the point. The diversions were so welcome because he gives an excellent interview, which I believe is heavily influenced by his choice of reading material – he revealed later in the night that he doesn’t read much fiction anymore, but mostly just poetry and philosophy.
Below are some of my favorite quotes from the night:
What he thinks about his oeuvre:
“All twelve past books are terrible sins clouding my past . . . but they’re better than anyone else’s.”
On the philosophical differences between himself and his pseudonym:
“John Banville writes about Being with a capital B; Benjamin Black writes about acting in the world.”
How Benjamin Black is only make-believe:
“I wish I could have an alter ego – I could blame him for all my sins.”
The trouble with easy-to-write books like Christine Falls:
“I am having fun, and as an Irish Catholic that is deeply troublesome.”
On trying to write from the heart rather than the head:
“If you write honestly, you won’t be sentimental.”
On the reality of novels:
“Characters are more real than the person we’re sleeping with.”
UPDATE: For other takes on the reading, check out Counter Balance and The Elegant Variation. I enjoyed talking with Ison afterwards but missed Callie and Mark. Next time we’re at the same reading, you two, let’s meet!