He may be ill, dying and never to appear again. John Banville does not yet know the fate of his main character, Dr. Quirke. But one thing is certain: Holy Orders, the sixth book in this series, is a major turning point in the crime solving pathologist’s life.
Throughout the novel Quirke, an uncomfortably uptight man, suffers from hallucinations and anxiety attacks that leave him disoriented. At the book’s close, the condition of the main character’s mental health is unknown.
“This is Quirke’s darkest hour,” Banville says. “To all the people near to him, Quirke is in the underworld. He lives down there; he works down there. He’s been dealing with the dead all of his working life and I have to find some way to redeem him and bring him up into the light.”
That premise sounds like a John Banville novel, the author jokes. The Quirke novels are written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, who he claims is an author with completely different characteristics than his John Banville persona.
“Benjamin Black is a craftsman and takes great pride in being a craftsman; Banville has pretentions to be an artist,” he explains. “Both are after different things. You could say that Black writes about what people do whereas Banville tries to write about what people are.”
It would be fun to have the authors combine and write a book together, he says.
“I have such freedom when I work with Benjamin Black,” he says. “When I write a Banville book it seems to have me by my throat.”
He hints that Pheobe, Quirke’s formerly estranged daughter, could take a lead roll in book seven. Inspector Hackett, who often enlists Quirke in the investigation of difficult crimes (a Holmes & Watson of sorts), would team up with Pheobe to solve a crime with the help of a bedridden Quirke.
“The great joy about books like this is that you can do anything. You are a little God who has these characters. One can walk around; one you can kill, or keep alive; maim them; keep them healthy,” Banville says.
He is admittedly intrigued by Pheobe. Banville said his agent is sure the author is in love with Pheobe, but Banville insists, instead, that he is Pheobe.
“She is a strange, troubled, dark character that I find absolutely fascinating,” Banville says. “She is going to be something else. She is going to make something of her mind. She is young. She is going to do something important.”
That intrigue with Pheobe harkens back to his fascination with the female psyche.
“I think men are almost nothing without women. Women seem to know everything about men and men know nothing about women,” Banville says.
Pheobe is John Banville who is Benjamin Black. He is a man of many faces. Maybe, he jokes, he will write under a new pseudonym, becoming a third personality.
“We imagine that we are a single unitary being but we are not,” he says. “We are constantly making ourselves up. I would hate to be a single creature, a chronic sensibility. Being two people is easy.”
Ian Floyd is a writer living in Austin. Follow him on Twitter.