In 1897, the great Modernist Joseph Conrad published his aesthetic manifesto. “A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art,” he wrote, “should carry its justification in every line.” A terrifying standard. How many novelists have even attempted to live up to it? How many have tried to make every sentence of every work they publish its own justification?
Among living writers, very few. Chief among these is John Banville....
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