Author John Banville Talks About Reviving Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe

5:14 PM PST 03/07/2014 by Thea Klapwald

At a Writers Bloc forum, the Man Booker-winning novelist talked about penning a new tale involving the classic pulp detective.

What do Benjamin Black, Irish Detective Quirke, Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe all have in common? Author John Banville.

Banville recently published The Black-Eyed Blonde, starring the iconic Chandler's Philip Marlowe, under his detective fiction pen name Benjamin Black, after being approached by Chandler's estate about reviving the character.

Readers were given a glimpse into Banville's complex world last night at a Writers Bloc event in Los Angeles hosted by the group's head Andrea Grossman, who took the stage to banter with Banville, the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea (2005). Writers Bloc is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that offers the public an opportunity to interact with authors and screenwriters through a series of annual events.

Under the nom de plume of Black, Banville created Detective Quirke, an Irish pathologist in the 1950s, and has written eight books using the character. If it seems confusing keeping the writers and characters straight, it is. "I confuse myself all the time," said Banville. "The older I get, the more frivolous I get. Anything is possible."

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Grossman and 100 attendees at the event put on by the nonprofit were given insight into the writing process of Black/Banville.

"Black has more fun," said the author of his dual identities. "Banville has less fun. It takes three months to write a Black book. It takes two to five years to write a Banville book. Banville writes with concentration versus the spontaneity of Black. It's an entirely different way to write."

Banville's literary prowess has earned him many accolades, including being shortlisted two times for the Man Booker Prize, the U.K.'s most prestigious award for authors.

The new novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde, finds Marlowe in the early 1950s in Bay City, Calif., helping his favorite type of client -- an elegantly dressed, beautiful woman -- seemingly in need, looking for her ex-lover.

"I thought I would make Marlowe more contemporary, but then I thought, Why would I change this? It's perfect," said Banville.

Chandler is a writer Banville greatly admired. "Chandler was such a revelation. He invented a new kind of fiction," said Banville. "It's very elegant. And funny. Quirke is not funny."

The owners of the Chandler estate contacted Banville to revive Marlowe. Graham C. Greene, a literary agent and the nephew of famed British writer Graham Greene, and the primary owner of the Chandler estate offered no conditions to Banville to write the new book. "There was no interference," said Banville. In fact, Greene sent a letter to Banville praising the new novel.

Banville addressed the issue of creating fictional lives, plumbing his own depths for characters, using bits of gossip from the small fishing town he lives in for his plot twists, and the increased violence in crime fiction.

He revealed that the highest praise he ever had came from a man who worked on the commuter train that Banville took every morning to his job as literary editor at The Irish Times newspaper in Dublin, where he lives with his wife. "It was just after I'd won the Booker in 1989 (shortlisted for The Book of Evidence). One of the trainmen recognized me from the papers. He came toward me and I thought I was going to be attacked. Then he said, 'Great f---ing book.' "

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