"Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir" by John Banville; Knopf (212 pages, $26.95)
If you've ever wandered the streets of Dublin, you've heard the music of the voices; it's a place where everyone, in one way or another, seems to be singing. Short of flying there for St. Patrick's Day (ah, if only), you can hear that music in John Banville's companionable new memoir-of-a-city, "Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir."
Banville, the acclaimed author of both literary novels and crime fiction (the latter under the name Benjamin Black), isn't quite a native Dubliner, though he's lived and strolled there for many decades. He grew up in the small town of Wexford, and in the book's opening section describes yearly trips to the big city for his birthday. Going home on the train after a day of treats and curious adventures, Banville would always weep, hiding his tears from his family, and not know why. Now, he muses, "I suppose it was because something was ending, was being folded up, like a circus tent; was becoming, in short, the past."
"Time Pieces" is a meandering walk through the past, both Banville's and Dublin's; illustrated with poignant photographs. (They're taken by the acclaimed Irish photographer Paul Joyce, the great-grand-nephew of James Joyce – Dublin, it seems, is a city of circles.) Often accompanied by his friend Cicero, who "knows a Dublin that few others are aware of or have forgotten ever existed," Banville takes us through Georgian doorways, across green parks populated by the shadows of memories, down rainy cobbled sidewalks whose bricks "gleam and glitter like the flanks of a galloping racehorse," into long-ago pubs where "a solid cube of tobacco smoke stood in the air and filled the room, cobweb-colored, thick and unmoving." And he tells stories of those places; the kind of stories told on a cozy night with friends when you don't want the conversation to ever end.
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I read the book breathlessly in one go, falling a little bit in love with the author (as one should, for all memoir) and wishing myself on those ankle-twisting sidewalks. If I'm lucky enough to go to Dublin again, I'll visit Banville's beloved Iveagh Gardens, which boasts various grottoes, fountains, woodlands, rockeries – and a maze that Banville, in many visits, has never been able to find. "Now, it is one thing to be lost in a maze," he writes, in delighted puzzlement, "but that there should be a maze one cannot find seems to me a truly marvelous thing, a conceit straight out of a wonder-tale by Borges." Here's hoping he finds it, some day.