“Dublin was never my Dublin which made it all the more alluring.”
— John Banville
So begins John Banville’s new book, “Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir.” Banville makes Dublin the focus of a journey into his past. John Banville recently won the Booker prize for his lyrical novel of loss and remembrance, “The Sea.”
Dublin is a city famous for its history and its literature, including James Joyce’s masterpiece, “Ulysses.” For Banville, born “a train ride away from Dublin,” going to visit on his birthday was a thrilling treat.
“Dublin was for me what Moscow was for Irina in Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters,’ a place of magical promise towards which my starved soul endlessly yearned” (Banville).
Banville’s reminiscence evokes Dublin, not the “dear and dreary Dublin” that Joyce saw, but rather a city where his beloved, subversive Aunt Nan lived. In fact, part of Banville’s charm, here, is his description of colorful characters, including relatives, friends and legendary writers. The book also includes photos of the author strolling about famous areas and landmarks.
Eventually, Banville settled in Dublin as a writer, and despite the fact James Joyce had exhausted Dublin for his work, Dublin became a frequent location for Banville’s Quirke mystery series, written under the pseudonym, Benjamin Black.
“Time Pieces” contains much humor as Banville takes the reader around the city, reveling in its cultural, architectural, political, and social history, including ancient wallpaper and Horatio Nelson’s sculpted head after the IRA blew up Nelson’s Pillar, as it was named. Banville also describes places and events. Here’s a description of a picnic he shares with a young woman:
“…she brought sandwiches and I, hopefully, a bottle of wine that in the event turned out not to have the desired effect — it was cheap and nasty, and anyway, Stephanie was too canny a girl to let herself be led into tipsiness by a beady-eyed young brute with not much more on is mind than the one usual thing.”
Stephanie is canny, indeed, and tells the young Banville that he is “wasting his time.”
Banville uses this touching if comic farewell scene to describe the Iveagh Gardens wearing “an air of faint sadness.” Dublin has, in fact, many lovely parks and gardens.
Banville’s book provides both a wonderfully eccentric unpredictable tour of Dublin, and a portrait of yet another artist as a young man, John Banville. Early in Time Pieces, Banville asks a provocative question: “When does the past become the past?” His layered book of memories demonstrates that “Time’s alchemy works in a bright abyss.”
Dublin is a busy city with heavy traffic. Taking a taxi is an adventure, and driving one’s self, suicidal. Trinity College has the illustrated Book of Kells, and after viewing that marvelous creation of ancient monks, tourists can drop by Kennedy’s pub which, as Banville points out, was Samuel Beckett’s favorite when he was an undergraduate at Trinity. On June 16, one can take the Bloomsday tour and follow in the footsteps of Joyce’s main characters, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. Through this fabled city runs the River Liffey.
John Banville knows these streets already celebrated in literature, and his book conjures a creative city map. Any American traveling to Dublin where many Georgian houses, halls and monuments still stand — except for Nelson’s Pillar — may want to bring Banville’s engaging and entertaining memoir as an enlightening guide.
Michael Corrigan graduated from San Francisco State with an MA in English and creative writing. He is a retired instructor of English and speech communications from Idaho State University. He has written several articles for various outlets, including Atticus Literary magazine online.