Arise, Sir John! France honours Banville

Bestselling literary author receives second major award in a month

Jean-Pierre Thébault, France's ambassador to Ireland, toasts John Banville after awarding him the
Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Jean-Pierre Thébault, France's ambassador to Ireland, toasts John Banville after awarding him the Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


A few weeks ago it was Spain, tonight it is France, so might it be Sweden later this year for John Banville?

The Irish author will be named a chevalier or knight in the French “Ordre des Arts et Lettres” by Jean-Pierre Thébault, France’s ambassador to Ireland, during a ceremony at the embassy this evening.

Earlier this month, Banville became the first Irish author to receive the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, conferred on those “whose literary work represents an outstanding contribution to universal literature”. He must now be considered a serious candidate for the biggest prize of all, the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Banville, who was born in Wexford in 1945, and is a former literary editor of The Irish Times, has received numerous accolades. In 2005, The Sea earned Banville his highest award, the Man Booker Prize, for which he had been shortlisted with The Book of Evidence in 1989. Doctor Copernicus (1976), a fictionalised biography of the Polish astronomer, earned him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. Kepler (1981), on the German astronomer, won him the Guardian Fiction Prize. The Book of Evidence won the GPA Book Award.

Recognised for his precise, cold, forensic prose style, Nabokovian inventiveness, and for the dark humour of his narrators, Banville is considered one of the major figures of contemporary European literature. He is also an admirer of French literature: Flaubert, Proust and Simenon are among his influneces. He has participated three times in the Franco-Irish Literary Festival, jointly organised by the French embassy and the Alliance Française. Almost all of his novels are translated into French and the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris has hosted him several times to present his works.

Banville is one of many Norman names associated with Wexford. It originates in the town of that name in the Calvados region of France.

The Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) was established in 1957 and is awarded by the French ministry of culture to recognise eminent artists, writers, and scholars for their efforts in promoting the awareness and enrichment of France’s cultural heritage throughout the world. Previous Irish recipients include Bono, Seamus Heaney, Van Morrison, Neil Jordan, Fiach Mac Conghail, Anne Madden, Michael Colgan, the late Irish Times film critic Michael Dwyer, Raymond Keaveney and Charles Benson. Banville is being inducted as a knight in the order, which might appear somewhat of an underpromotion, given that Jordan was made an officer, and Heaney and Bono were made commanders.

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