Narrative, Silence, and Psychosis in John Banville’s The Book of Evidence

In: Silence in Modern Irish Literature

This chapter begins by reflecting on the ongoing critical debate regarding John Banville’s place in modern Irish literature and the relation of his work to that of Beckett, acknowledging how Beckett’s significance to Banville derives from a fascination with silence in addressing the unsayable in fiction. Banville’s novel The Book of Evidence is examined in Lacanian terms to show how the unsayable is addressed through the special meaning that the psychotic mind of its protagonist attributes to different objects. Drawing also upon Giorgio Agamben’s writing on the relationship between silence and sayability in painting, I argue that the role of the painting in the novel relates to the special meaning that the psychotic mind of Freddie Montgomery projects, demonstrating a desire to transcend the verbal towards visual reality, a desire the denial of which prompts him to commit murder.