John Banville: Books that changed my life

Caroline Hutton 30 November -0001

John Banville is the Irish author of 16 novels, including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He’s also the recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize. These are the books that shaped his life. 

The Catholic Church Catechism 

The Catholic Church Catechosm

I won’t claim to be glad of the change the Catechism wrought in me, from heedless little savage to cowed Christian, but it was certainly momentous. The Catechism has the lowdown on everything.

Some confusion was inevitable, for a child first introduced to these mysteries at the age of seven. For instance, I thought for a long time that adultery was so-called because only adults do it. However the priests were always on hand to explain all.

If only it could all have been true…


Dunio Elegies 

By Rainer Maria Rilke 

Dunio Elegies  - Rainer Maria Rilke

I read the Elegies first in the early 1970s, in the old Leishman-Spender translations. At once my notions of what poetry is and, more significantly, what poetry can do, were transformed.

The first line of the First Elegy, “Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?”, was a clarion for me as an artist and, at a deeper level, as a human being. 


The Portrait of a Lady 

By Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James

If Rilke altered my view of poetry, this marvellous novel transformed entirely my conception of the novelist’s calling.

I read The Portrait in 1973, when I was staying near the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, close by where James himself had lodged when he was writing the book. At once I understood that the novel was a form in which one could make works of art.

James took the Victorian novel, loose and baggy monster that it was, and made of it something new and transcendent.

Feature image via BBC Radio 4