John Banville’s reputation as a master stylist and serious novelist wasn’t done any harm by the weekend reviews for his latest book Ancient Light. Familiar riffs on his usual leitmotifs guaranteed the standard standing ovation. ‘It is written in Banville’s customary prose, rhythmic and allusive and dense with suggestive imagery,’ Alex Clarke commended in the Guardian. While Patricia Craig in the Independent applauded that: ‘Many of John Banville’s customary concerns are present in this bedazzling new novel: memory and invention, questions of identity and make-believe, names and aliases, transgressions and transformations’.
More unexpected however — given the rather dour face he sports for photo-ops – was his rather fun interview in the Guardian. Apart from talking about death and prizes, Banville confessed how he gets his kicks: ‘To be laughed at by a grown-up woman is one of the great experiences of life.’ He then clarified: ‘I mean laughed at fondly.’
The sad news of Nora Ephron’s death from leukaemia on Wednesday was an opportunity for a roll call of her best lines. Famous for her warm insight and keen, informal humour, the screenwriter, novelist and essayist was celebrated by a raft of female journalists who have watched When Harry Met Sally on repeat, cried at every viewing of Sleepless in Seattle and can all offer a favourite Ephron line.
Hadley Freeman quoted this line about her mother from her autobiography: ‘She was a cut above the other mothers … None of them had careers and children … Also, she served delicious food … What’s more, she dressed beautifully … And then she ruined the narrative by becoming a crazy drunk’.
Julie Powell — the author of the book Julie & Julia that Ephron adapted for screen — suggested this from the fictionalised account of the breakup of her marriage, Heartbreak: ‘If I throw this pie at him, he will never love me. But he doesn’t love me anyway. So I can throw the pie if I want to.’
Jenny Colgan mentioned this line from Ephron on the subject of comedy: ‘When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. When you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.’
While Jane Shilling recalled a gag from a 1972 Esquire article on the pains of being flat-chested: &”‘I want to buy a bra,’ I said to my mother one night. ‘What for?’ she said. My mother was really hateful about bras… ‘Why not use a Band-Aid instead?’”
And in other less interesting news, there are still two mysteries surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. First, why people might want to read it rather than Réage’s The Story of O, Bataille’s The Eye or any back issue of Cosmopolitan. The second one is what journalists can still find to write about it. There were two articles in the Evening Standard today, two articles in the Guardian over the weekend, plus more coverage in the Independent, Telegraph and Daily Mail. Hand me the rope.