The celebrated author turns inward with this enchanting memoir about his beloved hometown.
Franz Kafka Prize and Booker Award recipient Banville (Mrs. Osmond, 2017, etc.) turns nostalgic in this quietly reflective, personal meditation on Dublin. Like the author’s pathologist detective Quirke of his pseudonymous Benjamin Black novels, Banville’s 1950s Dublin is where he begins his walking tour, with the “laboratory of the past…shaped and burnished to a finished radiance.” He lovingly recounts December birthday trips by train with his mother from their Wexford home to visit his spinster Aunt Nan at her Percy Place flat. Dublin, writes the author “was for me what Moscow was for Irina in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a place of magical promise towards which my starved young soul endlessly yearned.” Literary city signposts abound: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, and more. Banville then joins up with his friend Cicero, who “knows a Dublin that few others are aware of or have forgotten ever existed.” As a young man, the author shared the “shabby splendours” of an Upper Mount Street flat with his aunt in the “dazzlingly bright lights of Dublin.” Yeats’ daughter Anne lived below. “What a prissy and purblind young man I was,” writes Banville, “a snob with nothing to be snobbish about.” Forays into Dublin’s streets and pubs and Ireland’s history mix with memories and images flickering about like film running in a darkened room, all brought to life with picturesque-perfect details. He visits Iveagh Gardens with his daughter to show her “a place precious to me, where I was once sweetly and unhappily in love.” He and Cicero visit one of his “favourite buildings in all the world”—the Great Palm House of the Botanic Gardens. The text is beautifully complemented with Joyce’s well-chosen photographs.
Told in a conversational style both luscious and luxuriant, this is exquisite work by a master craftsman.