Narration as a Resurrection of the Dead: the Role of Storytelling in Banville’s Ghosts

in Matters of Telling: The Impulse of the Story


The narrator of John Banville’s Ghosts seems to be living in a purgatory of incessant guilt. His surroundings are characterized by a striking unreality – they are in part a patchwork of texts and in part – a collage of bogus artworks. The narrator, Freddie Montgomery, is a murderer who has been released after serving ten years in prison. But the past refuses to release him, and in this unreal, otherworldly realm he has to fight against the curse of his own spectral status by trying to resurrect his victim. The only way to negotiate with death and its minions is through narrative. Thus, Ghosts becomes a story of storytelling through which the narrator teaches himself to believe in the reality of others in order to achieve atonement. This chapter will investigate the particular significance of storytelling in Banville’s text: narrative as a spiritual undertaking, a form of expiation; story as an ethical recovery of the self and the other. The exploit that Freddie begins as a ‘little god’, making up characters equipped with their private histories, troubles and dark secrets culminates in a moral epiphany – an imaginary creature appears to come to life. Yet, Freddie still seems unable to exit the maze of the stories created by others – and his narrative is haunted by the theme of forgery and imitation. The tale breeds doubles, producing a doppelganger for every character; evil which has been exorcised, returns; the story refuses to end.

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