In his first novel since The Untouchable, John Banville gives us the intensely emotional story of a man discovering for the first time who he has been and what he is becoming.
Alexander Cleave--a famous actor who "took to the stage to give myself a cast of characters to inhabit who would be . . . of more weight and moment than I could ever hope to be"--faces the almost certain collapse of his thirty-year career. In physical and psychological retreat, he returns to his abandoned childhood home, believing that, away from his wife and daughter, away from the world at large, alone, without an audience of any kind, he might finally stop performing, catch himself in the act of living, and simply be.
But the house is unexpectedly populated. There are Cleave's memories, which seem to rise up out of the house itself: of the years during his childhood when his mother took in boarders; of the beginnings, and the beginnings-of-the-end, of his career and his marriage; of the course of his relationship with his now estranged daughter; and of his father, who committed suicide when Cleave was still a boy. There are the corporeal, but illicit, inhabitants of the house: the caretaker, an unsettling presence "with the ageless aspect of a wastrel son," and the fifteen-year-old housekeeper, a "voluptuary of indolence." And there are the apparitions (ghosts premonitions visitations)--a woman, a child, and a third, ill-defined figure--who Cleave feels are "intricately involved in the problem of whatever it is that has gone wrong with me."
Struggling to determine what exactly has gone wrong, and to understand what part the apparitions play in his life and he in theirs, Cleave slowly comes to see the ways in which things and people--himself included--are not what they seem, and the ways in which, inevitably, they reveal what they are.
Brilliantly conjured and realized, Eclipse is John Banville at his unique best.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Irish author Banville (The Book of Evidence; The Untouchable) is one of the most seductive writers currently at work. His books are so intensely imagined and freshly observed, with a startling image or insight on every page, that story almost ceases to matter. In fact, his tale here is tenuous in the extreme. Alexander Cleave is a successful actor because only in performance can he hide his essential hollowness, his sense of his own intangibility. When his career starts to falter, he retreats to his childhood home in a small town by the sea and tries to learn to live with himself, to discover who he really is. Into this existential anguish intrude memories of his parents, his estranged wife, his emotionally damaged daughterDand the ghosts of people he may not even know, but to whose sadness he is attuned. He begins an uneasy relationship with a slovenly caretaker, Quirke, and Quirke's enigmatic teenage daughter, Lily; he is visited by his wife; he goes to a strangeDand magnificently evokedDcircus with Lily; he receives terrible news about his daughter. There is by no means a surfeit of incident, and the book never falters or creates impatience because every scene, every moment, is so alive, so exquisitely lit, felt and polished, that to read among them is like listening to great music. And when Banville does choose toward the end to raise the emotional temperature, the effect is deeply moving. (Feb. 28) Forecast: Banville will probably never be a hugely popular writer, and The Eclipse, unlike The Untouchable, is not structured along conventional lines. But perceptive reviews and the support of people who love exquisitely turned prose will help to slowly build his readership.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 04, 2002
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Excerpt from Eclipse by John Banville
At first it was a form. Or not even that. A weight, an extra weight; a ballast. I felt it that first day out in the fields. It was as if someone had fallen silently into step beside me, or inside me, rather, someone who was else, another, and yet familiar. I was accustomed to putting on personae but this, this was different. I stopped, struck, stricken by that infernal cold I have come to know so well, that paradisal cold. Then a slight thickening in the air, a momentary occlusion of the light, as if something had plummeted past the sun, a winged boy, perhaps, or falling angel. It was April: bird and bush, silver glint of coming rain, vast sky, the glacial clouds in monumental progress. See me there, the haunted one, in my fiftieth year, assailed suddenly, in the midst of the world. I was frightened, as well I might be. I imagined such sorrows; such exaltations.
I turned and looked back at the house and saw what I took to be my wife standing at the window of what was once my mother's room. The figure was motionless, gazing steadily in my direction but not directly at me. What did she see? What was it she was seeing? I felt diminished briefly, an incidental in that gaze, dealt, as it were, a glancing blow or blown a derisive kiss. Day reflecting on the glass made the image in the window shimmer and slip; was it she or just a shadow, woman-shaped? I set off over the uneven ground, retracing my steps, with this other, my invader, walking steadily inside me, like a knight in his armour. The going was treacherous. The grass clutched at my ankles and there were holes in the clay, under the grass, made by the hoofs of immemorial cattle when this edge of town was still open country, that would trip me up, perhaps break one of the myriad delicate bones it is said are in the foot. A gush of panic rose in me like gorge. How, I asked myself, how could I stay here? How could I have thought I could stay here, all alone? Well, too late now; I would have to go through with it. This is what I told myself, I murmured it aloud: I shall have to go through with it, now. Then I smelled the faint salt reek of the sea and shivered.
I enquired of Lydia what it was she had been looking at.
"What?" she said. "When?"
I gestured. "From the window, upstairs; you were looking out at me."
She gave me that dulled gaze she had lately developed, drawing her chin down and in, as if she were slowly swallowing something. She said she had not been upstairs. We stood in silence for a moment then.
"Aren't you cold?" I said. "I'm cold."
"You're always cold."
"I dreamed last night I was a child and here again."
"Of course; you never left here, that's the truth."
A fine feel for the pentameter, my Lydia has.
The house itself it was that drew me back, sent out its secret summoners to bid me come . . . home, I was going to say. On the road one winter twilight an animal appeared in front of the car, cowering and yet fearless-seeming, sharp teeth bared and eyes flashing in the glare of the headlamps. I had stopped on instinct before I registered the thing, and sat aghast now smelling mephitic fumes of tyre smoke and listening to my own blood hammering in my ears. The animal made a movement as if to flee, then stopped still again. Such fierceness in that stare, the electric eyes an unreal neon-red. What was it? Weasel? Ferret? Too big for these, yet not big enough for fox or dog. Just some wild unknown thing. Then at a low run, seemingly legless, silently, it was gone. My heart was pounding yet. The woods leaned inward on either side of me, blackly brown against the last faint radiance of the dying day. For miles I had been travelling in a kind of sleep and now I thought I was lost. I wanted to turn the car around and drive back the way I had come, but something would not let me go. Something. I switched off the headlights and struggled out and stood befuddled on the road, the damp half-darkness folding me about, making me its own. From this low hill the twilit land ahead fell away into shadow and mist. An unseen bird above me in the branches gave a cautious croak, a wafer of ice in the wet verge snapped glassily under my heel. When I sighed, an ectoplasmic flaw of breath stood in front of me briefly like a second face. I walked forward to the brow of the hill and saw the town then, its few little glimmering lights, and, beyond, the fainter glimmer of the sea, and I knew where unknowingly I had come to. I went back and got behind the wheel again and drove to the top of the hill and there I switched off the engine and the lights and let the car roll down the long incline in bumping silence, dreamily, and stopped in the square, before the house standing in its darkness, deserted, its windows all unlit. All, all unlit.