Irish writer John Banville’s skills as a novelist and, more recently, a mystery writer under the name of Benjamin Black, are well established. He’s won a slew of literary awards, including the Booker Prize for The Sea. He can now add Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir to his long list of books.      

Kirkus caught Banville over the phone while he was in a Dublin restaurant and pub; the sound of gentle tinkling and hushed talk could be heard in the background. Kirkus’ critic describes Time Pieces as “enchanting…a quietly reflective, personal meditation on Dublin…told in a conversational style both luscious and luxuriant.”

The book is an amalgamation: memoir/history/tour guide to buildings, gardens, and Irish writers, with accompanying photographs. Banville says the inspiration for the book was the photographs.                                                

“I heard from an acquaintance, Paul Joyce. He wrote me telling me he had taken all these photographs of Dublin and would I like to see them,” Banville explains. “It gave me the idea for the memoir. I didn’t want to do it at first but I’m at the age where the past is far more interesting than the present. So he took some new photographs. I found that I enjoyed writing about the past, trolling through the past to see how much I could remember. It was a delight to do it.

“The present is where we live, while the past is where we dream,” says Banville, who’s 72. In the book’s opening chapter he recalls taking the Wexford train with his mother to visit his Aunt Nan in the poverty-stricken Dublin of the 1950s where they would celebrate his birthday. It was a “grey and graceless place” then but it didn’t “mar my dream of it.”                            

He describes himself as a young boy on the way back home in a long, sinuous sentence: “I could not have said why or for what exactly it was that I was weeping, quietly, agonisingly, with fists clenched and mouth clamped shut to prevent a sob escaping, but thinking back now, I suppose it was because something was ending, was being folded up, like a circus tent; was becoming, in short, the past.”

Banville cover Banville moved to Dublin when he was a young man to live with his Aunt. Anne Yeats, William Butler’s daughter, occupied the flat below his aunt’s. In Time Pieces he describes her as a “fine if unadventurous painter with a middling reputation.” He describes himself as a “prissy and purblind young man.” When asked if he wasn’t a bit harsh on his younger self, the answer is an emphatic no. “He was a snob with nothing to be snobbish about.”        

As we’re nearing the end of our conversation he slyly and sarcastically remarks on the book’s cover photo. Seen from the back, Banville’s walking away, down a darkened cobblestone street: “Ah, but doesn’t he look just like a moneylender.” Asked if he might write another memoir, he’s quick to respond, “No. Right now I’m working on a piece about Dublin’s River Liffey.” 

Is Banville looking forward to the reviews of Time Pieces? “I don’t read reviews,” he says. “If I get bad ones my friends will be sure to tell me.”

Thomas Lavoie, a retired book publisher, is a Kirkus reviewer.