The Secret Guests: Brilliantly entertaining novel from John Banville

Book review: Inventive thriller set in Big House in rural Tipperary in 1940

Writer John Banville at home in Howth, Co Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Writer John Banville at home in Howth, Co Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

BW Black is a variant of John Banville’s pseudonym Benjamin Black. The “BW” may be an allusion to Banville’s actual first name, William, but whatever the reason, it is typical of the kind of nameplay that has been a feature of his fiction. Banville has had a long fascination with individuals who conceal their true selves by adopting multiple identities, with mask-wearers, frauds and tricksters, such figures who more often than not are also types of artists.

But what does this new pseudonym signify? Just as “John Banville” may be associated with high-brow literary fiction, so “Benjamin Black” is a crime writer. The Secret Guests, a sort of speculative historical fiction that contains elements of the Irish Big House novel and the high-stakes thriller, sits perhaps somewhere between a John Banville and a Benjamin Black novel.

The Irish Times
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