The figurative language of John Banville…

Reading time: About 2 mins.

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes and metaphors from John Banville….

John Banville is an Irish novelist, short story writer,  and screenwriter. He has won the 1976 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the 2003 International Nonino Prize, the 2005 Booker Prize (for his novel The Sea), the 2011 Franz Kafka Prize, the 2013 Austrian State Prize for European Literature and the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature.

But John Banville’s recent murder mystery, which I just finished reading — Snow — pulls the genre to new levels of sophistication.

The year is 1957 and Detective Inspector St. John Strafford has been called to investigate the murder of a parish priest in the home of an  aristocratic and secretive family. Determined to identify the murderer—Strafford faces every imaginable challenge in this page-turner of a thriller.

Banville also displays sophisticated figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • The glass-fronted bookcases linking the walls stared before them coldly, and the books stood shoulder to shoulder in an attitude of mute resentment.
  • The first thing everyone noticed about Sergeant Jenkins was the flatness of his head. It looked as if the top of it had been sliced clean off, like the end of a boiled egg.
  • She was tall — she had to stoop a little in the doorway — and markedly slender, and her skin was pinkly pale, the color of skimmed milk into which had been mixed a single drop of blood.
  • All her movements were slow and effortfully deliberate, as if she were wading underwater.
  • She must have been there when he came in In these old houses you only had to keep still and stay quiet in order to fade into the background, like a lizard on a stone wall.
  • He was missing a front tooth. The rectangular gap looked very stark and black, like the mouth of a deep cave seen from the far side of a valley.
  • Strafford idly studied the milling animals [sheep], admiring their long aristocratic heads and the neat little hoofs, like carved nuggets of coal, on which they trotted so daintily.
  • The receiver was hot in his hand, and seemed to breathe, like a mouth, into his ear.
  • The stalled car had been towed away from the bridge, and the trucks in front of him began to move, trumpeting like elephants and snorting blue-gray clouds of exhaust smoke.
  • The sky was clouded but the air was clear, although now and then a solitary flake of snow fluttered down uncertainly, like a drunken butterfly.
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