Irish author John Banville beats higher profile favorites to become the surprise winner of Britain‘s prestigious Booker Prize for fiction on October 11, 2005. His 14th novel, The Sea, is described by the judges as “a masterly study of grief, memory, and love recollected.”
Banville wins the Booker Prize in 2005 after having been on the short list in 1989. His later work is contending with novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, Ali Smith, Sebastian Barry and Zadie Smith. The judges vote is split between Banville and Ishiguro, and Chairman of Judges John Sutherland casts the winning vote in favour of Banville.
Earlier in the year Sutherland had written approvingly of Ian McEwan‘s novel Saturday. Banville strongly criticizes the work in The New York Review of Books. Banville later admits that, upon reading Sutherland’s letter in response to his review, he had thought, “Well, I can kiss the Booker goodbye. I have not been the most popular person in London literary circles over the past half-year. And I think it was very large of Sutherland to cast the winning vote in my favour.”
Banville is noted for having written a letter in 1981 to The Guardian requesting that the Booker Prize, for which he is “runner-up to the shortlist of contenders”, be given to him so that he can use the money to buy every copy of the longlisted books in Ireland and donate them to libraries, “thus ensuring that the books not only are bought but also read — surely a unique occurrence.”
When his The Book of Evidence is shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize, Banville says a friend, whom he describes as “a gentleman of the turf,” instructed him “to bet on the other five shortlistees, saying it was a sure thing, since if I won the prize I would have the prize-money, and if I lost one of the others would win…But the thing baffled me and I never placed the bets. I doubt I’ll be visiting Ladbrokes any time soon.”
Banville has received numerous other awards in his career. His novel The Book of Evidence is shortlisted for the Booker Prize and wins the Guinness Peat Aviation award in 1989. In 2011, Banville is awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, while 2013 brings both the Irish PEN Award and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2014 he wins the Prince of Asturias Award in Letters. He is considered a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2007.