John Banville is first Irish author to win €50,000 Asturias award

His alter ego Benjamin Black is also praised

John Banville: described by George Steiner as “the most intelligent and stylish novelist currently at work in English”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

John Banville: described by George Steiner as “the most intelligent and stylish novelist currently at work in English”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


John Banville has become the first Irish author to receive the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, announced today in Oviedo, Spain. The award, established in 1981, is conferred on those “whose literary work represents an outstanding contribution to universal literature” and includes a Joan Miró sculpture and a cash prize of €50,000. The award will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a ceremony presided over by the prince of Asturias.

Unusually, the judges’ citation confers the award not just “on the Irish novelist John Banville for his intelligent, insightful and original work as a novelist” but also “on his alter ego, Benjamin Black, author of disturbing, critical crime novels”.

Previous winners include Philip Roth, Arthur Miller and Gunter Grass.

The judges added: “John Banville’s prose opens up dazzling lyrical landscapes through cultural references in which he breathes new life into classical myths and beauty goes hand in hand with irony. At the same time, he displays an intense analysis of complex human beings that ensnare us in their descent into the darkness of baseness or in their existential fellowship. Each of his works attracts and delights for his skill in developing the plot and his mastery of registers and expressive nuances, as well as for his reflections on the secrets of the human heart.”

Banville, who was born in Wexford in 1945, and is a former literary editor of The Irish Times, has received numerous accolades throughout his career. In 2005, The Sea earned Banville his highest award, the Man Booker Prize, which he had been shortlisted for 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 (1989) won the Guinness Peat Aviation Book Award,

In 2006 he began to publish a series of thrillers under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, featuring the forensic pathologist Quirke, starting with Christine Falls, recently adapted for television starring Gabriel Byrne. His latest work is The Black-Eyed Blonde, in which he brings Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe back to life.

George Steiner called him “the most intelligent and stylish novelist currently at work in English”. Considered by some critics as Nabokov’s “heir”, his style is appreciated for its precise prose and black humour .

Banville was nominated for the award by José Antonio Pascual Rodriguez, deputy director of the Royal Spanish Academy, and Javier Garrigues, Spain’s ambassador to Ireland. There were 23 other candidates from around the world.

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