‘She was a shining light in the world of letters’ – John Banville pays tribute to critic Eileen Battersby

Eileen Battersby (1958-2018), the author and literary critic, died in a road accident just before Christmas. Throughout her career she stood up dauntlessly for the undiminished importance of the book in general and the novel in particular.

For many years the chief reviewer for the Irish Times, she was a champion especially of the overlooked and the undervalued; eastern European writers were a particular favourite, and she was among the first to spot the significance of WG Sebald and to reaffirm the greatness of the long-neglected Joseph Roth.

And she was fearless. No grand reputation intimidated her, no towering ego could put her in its shadow. She stuck to her guns, and had unwavering aim: in her purview, talent was honoured and mediocrity deplored.

For all the fierceness of her opinions, she was wonderfully inclusive. Her reviews were informed by the catholicity of her interests. She could write on any subject, from archaeology to music – Bach was a special love – to running and horsemanship. Her regard for animals was one of her most endearing traits: no stray was safe from being swept up into Eileen’s all-embracing care.

She was a shining light, and what used to be called the world of letters is darkened by her going.