John Banville: “I hate the cynicism of the Church”

IThere are those who “eat the priest” and then there are those who emasculate them, downright. John Banville, pure peat Irishman, belongs to this second category, less invigorating, more bloody. The most respected man of letters on his island since James Joyce, awarded the prestigious Booker in 2005 for The seasigns today a thriller bulldozer on the exercise of the power of the clergy.

In the Irish countryside of the 1950s, we find in the early morning the venerable Father Lawless in a cassock and Roman collar soaking in his own blood. The clergyman, who stayed at Ballyglass House overnight due to snowfall, was stabbed and had his genitals severed. The household, notables of the “landed aristocracy”, the Osbornes, gather in nightcaps around the stiff while a mandate from Dublin is detective inspector Protestant to say the least baroque: St John Stratfford.

VSt is through the eyes of this misused character that the reader examines the characters, their story, the hypothesis of a motive. Among these characters, the rigid (and old) Colonel Osborne, whose first wife broke her back at the foot of the same staircase as the priest – we will consider as an alternative to murder the “scoumoune of the staircase”. Doctor Hafney, known as “the Boche”, in a tweed suit “the color and texture of porridge”, a provincial bourgeois and family doctor – but above all the new Mrs. Osborne, “fragile of nerves”, all suffused with the bad taste of its time. Finally, the girl, Lettice – almost like the salad -, “depraved” who has her “confectionery” licked by Fonsey, the man of the woods, her “Rogue”, she says, of this kind ofLady Chatterley’s Lover malodorous that she comes to knead in the foam with lust.

One whodunnit hectic, with masterful, evocative language, which mocks the provincial bourgeoisie as a microsociety. But also a Cluedo who denounces the control of the clergy, to whom John Banville, who welcomes us to Dublin, on his lands, wishes the greatest evil…

READ ALSOSpecial thriller – Scotland, the war of clans? “I hate them,” he told us. I hate the Church, I would like to see all the monasteries collapse, and all the money given to them taken back. If they lived in poverty, how many priests and nuns would there be? I hate the cynicism of the Church. And when I think of all those poor people who believe in it! If I had the power, I would make them disappear. A deaf hatred, in an Ireland long eroded by a fratricidal religious war. For Banville, this is a childhood memory. “A pregnant woman pushing a pram, a small child in her hand, forced to get down on the road to let a priest pass on the sidewalk… That was how the Church was in those years, and that was complitly normal. »

Known as Benjamin Black

The thriller therefore offers John Banville his revenge on a system that has held an entire nation in check by making, as his novel tells it, reign of terror.

But we will only be surprised to see the birth of a thriller under the signature of Banville. DIn the “black”, he is known worldwide as Benjamin Black. Even our national Bernard Minier, the author of Ice and lucia, a day of dedications at a literary fair in Spain, tells us that he paid the price. He was invited to represent the French avant-garde of the genre, proud of his success, but he remained to tap the tip of his pen, while beside an endless line of processionaries was waiting to meet their idol: Benjamin Black.

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A pseudonym behind which he has been hiding since 2007. He has signed under this name nothing but thrillers immersed in the 1950s, and with a secret, albeit quirky, ambition that he reveals to us: to write “thrillers without murders” . He maliciously succeeded in The Disappearance of April Latimerin 2010. ” Because, in this novel, April is supposed to have been killed, but we do not find her body. Now, in the following book, which has not yet been translated [April in Spain, 2021, sous le nom de Banville, NDLR], April reappears. Which means that she was not killed and that it is therefore a thriller without crime! laughs the mischievous septuagenarian.

As for thought leaders, Benjamin Black has already revived Chandler’s Marlowe once in a novel, but it is Georges Simenon of whom he dreams. His books that “flow like water”, like his favorite, The Leak of Mr. World; his the art of staging. “To describe one of the scenes that most impressed me, he writes: ‘A crowd of travelers left the station, while it split it.’ It would have taken me three pages to say what he does in one sentence. I would never have such an economy. But it was for Simenon that I wrote detective novels. For his Hard novels. They are sometimes still in the rough state, lack flesh, but they are magnificent, just magnificent! »

Simenon to whom the Nobel Academy, “these bastards of Stockholm,” says Banville, would never have awarded a prize. “Because he was better than Sartre and Camus but was only an author of detective novels…”

Snow on Ballyglass House by John Banville. Translated from English (Ireland) by Michèle Albaret-Maatsch (Robert Laffont-Pavillons, 416 pages, 22 euros).

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John Banville: “I hate the cynicism of the Church”