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This report is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

Banville's Revenge Bernard Bergonzi

The recently published third volume of Norman Sherry's biography of Graham Greene describes a disconcerting episode from the novelist's final years. In 1989 the Guinness Peat Aviation Company decided to do something big for Irish writing by offering a prize of 50,000 punts for the best book in any genre published in the previous three years, by either an Irish writer or an established resident in Ireland. A panel of distinguished judges was assembled from both sides of the Atlantic. Their task was to read all the submissions and to agree on a short list of five books, which would then be presented to Graham Greene, who had agreed to act as adjudicator or, as Sherry puts it, 'a sort of Inspector-General'. He was eighty-five years of age and in failing health, but his task was not onerous. He was to read the five short-listed books - by John Banville, Shane Connaughton, Roy Foster, Seamus Heaney and Aidan Matthews - and decide on the winner. Greene was to provide the crowning cherry on the sponsors' rich cake. But he was never a good team-player; his usual instinct was to rock the boat or overturn the apple-cart. He may have become disenchanted with literary prizes, having been long deprived of the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he was widely thought of as deserving (according to Sherry, this was because of the rooted anti-Catholic prejudice of an influential member of the Nobel committee). Greene decided to adapt the Irish prize to ...

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