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JOHN BANVILLE QUOTES

Irish novelist (1945- )

The past beats inside me like a second heart.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Sea

I have never really got used to being on this earth. Sometimes I think our presence here is due to a cosmic blunder, that we were meant for another planet altogether, with other arrangements, and other laws, and other, grimmer skies. I try to imagine it, our true place, off on the far side of the galaxy, whirling and whirling. And the ones who were meant for here, are they out there, baffled and homesick, like us? No, they would have become extinct long ago. How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was meant to contain us?

JOHN BANVILLE, The Book of Evidence

My mother was afraid of the books I wrote, afraid of what she would discover if she read them.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Paris Review, spring 2009

Given the world that he created, it would be an impiety against God to believe in him.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Sea

The telephone ringing gave me a dreadful start. I have never got used to this machine, the way it crouches so malevolently, ready to start clamouring for attention when you least expect it, like a mad baby.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Untouchable

Writing keeps me at my desk, constantly trying to write a perfect sentence. It is a great privilege to make one’s living from writing sentences. The sentence is the greatest invention of civilization. To sit all day long assembling these extraordinary strings of words is a marvelous thing. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s as near to godliness as I can get.... The great thrill is when a sentence that starts out being completely plain suddenly begins to sing, rising far above itself and above any expectation I might have had for it. That’s what keeps me going on those dark December days.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Paris Review, spring 2009

Happiness was different in childhood. It was so much then a matter simply of accumulation, of taking things - new experiences, new emotions - and applying them like so many polished tiles to what would someday be the marvellously finished pavilion of the self.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Sea

To take possession of a city of which you are not a native you must first fall in love there.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Untouchable

When darkness sifts from the air like fine soft soot and light spreads slowly out of the east then all but the most wretched of humankind rally.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Infinities

The world is not real for me until it has been pushed through the mesh of language.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Paris Review, spring 2009

All my life I have lied. I lied to escape, I lied to be loved, I lied for placement and power; I lied to lie. It was a way of living; lies are life's almost-anagram.

JOHN BANVILLE, Shroud

This love, this mortal love, is of their own making ... the thing we did not intend, foresee or sanction. How then should it not fascinate us?... It is as if a fractious child had been handed a few timber shavings and a bucket of mud to keep him quiet only for him promptly to erect a cathedral.... Within the precincts of this consecrated house they afford each other sanctuary, excuse each other their failings, their sweats and smells, their lies and subterfuges, above all their ineradicable self-obsession. This is what baffles us, how they wriggled out of our grasp and somehow became free to forgive each other for all that they are not.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Infinities

When you have once seen the chaos, you must make some thing to set between yourself and that terrible sight; and so you make a mirror, thinking that in it shall be reflected the reality of the world; but then you understand that the mirror reflects only appearances, and that reality is somewhere else, off behind the mirror; and then you remember that behind the mirror there is only the chaos.

JOHN BANVILLE, Doctor Copernicus

Dogs are dim creatures, do not speak to me of their good sense--have you ever heard of a team of tomcats hauling a sled across the frozen wastes?

JOHN BANVILLE, The Infinities

Yes, this is what I thought adulthood would be, a kind of long indian summer, a state of tranquility, of calm incuriousness, with nothing left of the barely bearable raw immediacy of childhood, all the things solved that had puzzled me when I was small, all mysteries settled, all questions answered, and the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed, quietus.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Sea

That’s one of the many things I hate about life, that it’s a hideously clichéd business.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Paris Review, spring 2009

Fictional characters are made of words, not flesh; they do not have free will, they do not exercise volition. They are easily born, and as easily killed off.

JOHN BANVILLE, attributed, Irish Writers and Their Creative Process

When I was a child and heard about angels, I was both frightened and fascinated by the thought of these enormous, invisible presences in our midst. I conceived of them not as white-robed androgynes with yellow locks and thick gold wings, which was how my friend Matty Wilson had described them to me--Matty was the predecessor of all sorts of arcane knowledge--but as big, dark, blundering men, massive in their weightlessness, given to pranks and ponderous play, who might knock you over, or break you in half, without meaning to. When a child from Miss Molyneaux's infant school in Carrickdrum fell under the hoofs of a dray-horse one day and was trampled to death, I, a watchful six year old, knew who was to blame; I pictured his guardian angel standing over the child's crushed form with his big hands helplessly extended, not sure whether to be contrite or to laugh.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Untouchable

The tea-bag is a vile invention suggestive to my perhaps overly squeamish eye of something a careless person might leave behind unflushed in the lavatory.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Sea

This is a problem for Irish writers—our literary forebears are enormous. They stand behind us like Easter Island statues, and we keep trying to measure up to them, leaping towards heights we can’t possibly reach. I suppose that’s a good thing, but it makes for a painful early life for the writer.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Paris Review, spring 2009

The secret of survival is a defective imagination. The inability of mortals to imagine things as they truly are is what allows them to live, since one momentary, unresisted glimpse of the world’s totality of suffering would annihilate them on the spot, like a whiff of the most lethal sewer gas.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Infinities

The past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that.

JOHN BANVILLE, The Sea


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