Prague is the magic capital of Europe. Since the days of Emperor Rudolf II, ” devotee of the stars and cultivator of the spagyric art”, who in the. Prague Pictures: A Portrait of the City (Writer and the City.) [John Banville] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The fourth book in. Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City (Writer and the City) [John Banville] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Prague is the magic capital of.

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At first blush, there seems something minimalist about Bloomsbury’s elegant new series on foreign cities – short, attractively priced books in octavo format – jihn of the near-complete absence, in our “visually literate” and nothing else time, of illustrations.

This in turn shifts everything on to the words: The challenge is to the writer to produce a city in words. Now John Banville joins their company with Prague Pictures. Banville, who has novelised Kepler, Copernicus and Newton, and in his reviewing and his editing of the books banvi,le of the Irish Times shown himself to be banvillee most outward-looking and cosmopolitan of Irish writers, has been visiting Prague for decades, but his book is very poor.

If you are looking for atmospheres, truths, suggestions, insights, even half-decent writing, you will surely be disappointed. His concept in Prague Pictures is the modish sub-Sebaldian corridor, with memory and false memory, digression, disquisition, quotation and elements of fiction all participating.


For this to work, the reader has to jhon that, whichever doors the writer opens – or even leaves unopened – he will have something interesting and jogn to say. To know enough – here, even more than usual, because what you are selling is facts – you have to know too much.

I have always thought there was something cheating and self-protective about this as a “post-autobiographical” or “post-novel” strategy: Sebald himself didn’t always manage to pull it off, and with Banville it falls completely flat.

Near the beginning, as he approaches Prague for the first time, Banville betrays himself by talking of “unpronounceable stations”. This is ingratiating and unwise: Alternatively, why bother with them at all? A somewhat desultory narrative follows, to do with pragu some photographs out of the country; then a little essay on the one-armed photographer, Josef Sudek.

First person absent

All rather Sebald, and all kohn in that rather sketchy Sebald first person: A long chapter on Tycho Brahe and Kepler – fully a quarter of the book – barely touches on Prague. Rather, it looks like ancient novel research animated by fresh self-promotion, and its inclusion here is an impertinence. The reader – if not the writer – thinks “old rope”.

A concluding set of “snapshots” is better; as is a description of a woefully drab “party” some time in the s.


Prague Pictures: Portraits of a City: John Banville: Bloomsbury USA

But it’s not much to take from a whole book. If Prague Pictures had been well-written, it might yet be another matter, but Banville has a penchant for a matey bathos, at once homiletic and undignified “It does not do to cross a Habsburg”varied with outbursts of grandiosity “this bludgeoned, impoverished city”and sometimes both together: The one exception is Gustav Meyrink’s catty attack on the Prague river, the Vltava or Moldauthat while it looked majestic, it is in fact “four millimetres deep and full of leeches”.

It further hurts the book that the Czech author is not “Skrovecky,” that the double-beast the hippogriff is usually written with double consonants and not with Ys, that Huizinga’s book is not The Autumn of the Middle Agesand that Plotinus’s is not the Eddeades.

But all that is perhaps only to be expected pragye something knocked off on a Tuscan retreat, or, as Banville puts it with anxious implausibility: Higher education John Banville Travel writing Travel guides reviews.