John Banville arrives for the first interview in The Currency’s new podcast series Experience carrying a bag of books from Hodges Figgis. When we arranged to talk, I believed he still worked each day from an office on the quays but he tells me when he arrives that he gave that up before the pandemic. He has instead come on a DART from his home in Howth for the interview.

As he travelled in, he would say later in this podcast, he reflected on how his life in some ways now resembles that of his father, of whom he said once that he had never seen run. 

“My life is a bit like that these days,” he said. Banville works, occasionally he has a reason to get on the DART to come into town, where he might go to a bookshop, be interviewed, have a glass of wine and return home. “It is a perfectly ordered life,” he says.

But it has been a complicated life too as he discusses in the podcast.

John Banville with Dion Fanning. Photo: Bryan Meade

The work is the thing that keeps him going and the work is the thing that he found hard to return to when his wife Janet Banville died and grief took over in a way he hadn’t anticipated. He would discuss that in the final minutes of this podcast. Grief was not what he expected it to be, he said. ”I thought I would lose myself in work, but actually what bereavement does is it stuns you. It affects one’s memory very badly.”

And it affected his work. “What would I do if I didn’t work? To me it’s like breathing.”

His commitment to his work, his statements about the incompatibility of the life of the artist with raising a family have caused outrage in the past. He says in this interview “who cares about people on Twitter” but then anticipates another storm when people hear this interview.

The interview began with his work and ended with his work. He says he has written his last John Banville book which is due out next month but he will continue writing his “crime capers.” He talked about his parents, his childhood – “I didn’t like myself but I liked my own company” – and his time as a sub-editor at the Irish Press. He had no difficulty separating journalism, or sub-editing, from the writing of fiction but now – and he anticipates this comment will cause him trouble – “everybody’s reading, but unfortunately, everybody’s writing too”.

He talks about the noise of the modern world, the vanity of influencers and the relentlessness of information.

“I have this notion of a person who has been on a planet on the other side of the universe. And his/hers/its job has been to monitor Earth for the last 300 years and in the last 20 years or so, there’s this peculiar aura around the planet. And he’s saying to himself, ‘What is that?’ It’s talk, it’s talk, endless babble.  And people think that they’re saying something, it’s just babble.” He pauses, laughs and says “God, I’ll be torn limb from limb for this.”

John Banville. Photo: Bryan Meade

He knows the world is changing. “But look, I’m old. Young people – should any young people watch this podcast – they’ll be saying, typical, all the old talk like that. And when I was young, I looked at the old and said all the old talk that. It’s natural, it’s inevitable.”

He hope the work remains. “There’s a great notion that if you hang around art, that you will somehow be morally better, this is nonsense. That’s not what art is for. If art has any function, it’s simply to make the reader or the viewer or the listener have a more vivid sense of what it is to be alive, what it is to be a human being in a strange predicament and on the strange planet, which we find ourselves. That’s all it does.” He then adds, understanding how important that might actually be. “That’s a great deal.”