The 64-year-old novelist won the €15,000 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award for The Infinities, his first work of literary fiction since taking the 2005 Man Booker Prize for The Sea.
Several leading writers gathered for an event that, since its inception 40 years ago, continues to thrive in a town that likes to dub itself Ireland’s literary capital.
The official opening was performed by judge Bryan MacMahon, son of the famous Kerry writer of the same name.
50 entries were considered for the Kerry Group award by the adjudicators – author Giles Foden and actress Kate O’Toole – who eventually decided on a final shortlist of five for the biggest cash prize for a work of fiction by an Irish writer.
The shortlist included: The Infinities by John Banville; Glover’s Mistake by Nick Laird; Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, The Space Between Us by John McKenna and Not True & Not Unkind by Ed O’Loughlin. Banville, the Wexford-born author of 15 novels, has been critically acclaimed for The Infinities which centres on how the Greek gods look on as a dying mathematician considers his flaws, fame and family.
Critic Tim Rutten, of the Los Angeles Times, describing Banville as one of the great living masters of the English language, said the prize-winning novel was a “dazzling example” of that mastery.
It was also an example, he said, of the slyly erudite humour that made Banville’s novels among the most rewarding available to readers today.
This week, Listowel will be a mecca for established and aspiring novelists, poets, playwrights and broadcasters. Speakers and those holding workshops include: Colm Toibin, Claire Kilroy, John McKenna, Jennifer Johnston, Ed O’Loughlin, Sheila O’Flanagan, Roddy Doyle, Michael Harding, Terry Prone and Rachel Cusk, to mention just some. Writers’ Week chairman Mike Lynch said the enthusiasm for the written word remained undiminished in the literary town. “The enduring appeal of Writers’ Week lies in its democracy and it ability to mix established authors with aspiring writers and to immerse audiences in the joys of reading and learning about the craft of writing,” he added.
Away from the serious business of writing, social activity is an essential part of the enjoyment of the festival, with animated conversation in Listowel’s convivial pubs, including the premises of the late John B Keane.
With a packed programme – including readings from authors, book launches, and a children’s programme – Writers’ Week continues until Sunday.