Of course I think of Kafka as being the quintessential international writer, but if the likes of John Banville want to claim him as Irish - I'll lift a jar to the sentiment. But I will point out that Kafka set one of his novels in North Amerika and not Ireland.
Photo by: Archive
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John Banville: claiming Kafka as an Irish writer
A few days ago the Booker Prize winning Irish writer John Banville was in Prague, to receive one of Europe’s most coveted literary awards, the Franz Kafka Prize. David Vaughan took the opportunity to talk to the writer about his work and his fascination with the cultural and literary world of Central Europe.
John BanvilleJohn Banville is one of the most richly poetic novelists writing in English today. He is best known internationally for his 2005 novel, The Sea, which is set in an Irish seaside resort and entwines memory with the present in a way that invites parallels with Milan Kundera. His writings have also brought him to Prague. Banville’s brilliant novel, Kepler, is set in the city at the time of the Renaissance, and opens with the wonderful line, “Johannes Kepler, asleep in his ruff, has dreamed the solution to the cosmic mystery.” In 2003 he wrote Prague Pictures, a portrait of the city that looks back to its mysterious past and also recalls Banville’s own first visit to Czechoslovakia a few years before the fall of communism.
“Much”, he writes in Prague Pictures, “has been written on the beauty of Prague, but I am not sure that beauty is the right word to apply to this mysterious, jumbled, fantastical, absurd city on the Vltava, one of Europe’s three capitals of magic – the other two being Turin and Lyon. There is loveliness here, of course, but a loveliness that is excitingly tainted.”
John Banville was the eleventh writer to receive the Franz Kafka Prize, joining such illustrious company as Harold Pinter, Philip Roth and Václav Havel. Banville himself has described it as an “old-style prize” in its emphasis on humanism, tolerance and timelessness, and with an international jury made up of what the Franz Kafka Society itself describes rather ponderously as “prominent personalities from the sphere of literary science and history”.
Franz KafkaI caught up with John Banville at his hotel in Na Poříčí Street, a building that, aptly enough, once housed the insurance company where Franz Kafka worked. I began with the obvious question as to what the award meant to him.
“Well, this is a very important award. I’m thrilled to have it, of course, and I’m particularly pleased to have a prize which is associated with the name of Franz Kafka.”
What does Kafka mean to you as an Irish writer?
“Of course, we would probably claim Kafka as an Irish writer. His tone of voice is certainly quite Irish: that sense of melancholy, that sense of strangeness and of being a stranger in the world. I think that we empathise with that very much indeed.”