John Banville wins Prince of Asturias Award for Literature

Irish writer wonders who will hand out prizes once their patron has become King Felipe IV

Writer John Banville in Madrid
Writer John Banville in MadridSamuel Sánchez

The winner of the 34th Prince of Asturias Award for Literature is like three writers rolled into one. So noted the jury of the prestigious Spanish prizes when it decided to bestow this year’s award on John Banville.

The Irish novelist is the creator of exquisite, unsettling emotional universes in works such as Eclipse, The Sea and Ancient Light. He has also crafted darker worlds under the pen name Benjamin Black, which he uses for his crime novels. Not content with that, he has even brought Raymond Chandler’s famous detective Philip Marlowe back to life in The Black-Eyed Blonde.

“An author’s only duty is to write good novels,” he said during a chat session with readers of EL PAÍS last year. “If you try to mix art and politics, the end result might be bad art and bad politics.”

Banville, 68, beat out Ian McEwan, James Salter and Haruki Murakami, who were also candidates for the award. Previous winners include Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Amos Oz and Philip Roth.

If you try to mix art and politics, the end result might be bad art and bad politics”

“Each one of his creations attracts and delights through its masterful plot development, knowledge of expressive nuance, and reflections on the secrets of the human heart,” said the jury.

Upon hearing the news, the writer asked his editor in Spain, María Fasce, whether he would be receiving the award from the prince or the king. The reason is that by the time the awards ceremony comes around in the fall, Crown Prince Felipe will already be King Felipe VI.

The task of handing out the awards would normally fall to his daughter Leonor, but she is only eight years old. The Prince of Asturias Foundation is now considering a name change for the awards, which could become either the Princess of Asturias Awards or the Principality of Asturias Awards.

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