It is paradoxical (or is it?) that writers who have made it their business to map out a particular region of the human psyche across a body of work (the canonical example is Graham Greene – I’d also cite Muriel Spark, and there are several others) tend not to be overly bothered about place in the conventional sense. The whole point about Greeneland was that – barring Greene’s fondness for the image of red laterite roads glowing in the sunset – it could be anywhere, even, in The Human Factor, Berkhamsted. And Spark’s unique cocktail of pert banter, unexpressed longing and existential despair (a negroni for the soul) could equally be served up in brittle Edinburgh, flyblown Peckham or the gardens of the Villa Borghese.
How suggestive, then, that John Banville’s surname could be redeployed without alteration as a toponym. All of Banville’s more recent books, at least all the Banville-qua-Banville books (though not the detective stories written under the name Benjamin Black), are set in the same placeless place in which certain physical characteristics do recur (estuaries, willow woods, old houses with loose shingles, everything shackled up in a kind of perpetual autumn), but are best understood as only partly