Is there any difference between memory and invention? That is the question that fuels this stunning novel, written with the depth of character, the clarifying lyricism and the sly humor that have marked all of John Banville's extraordinary works. And it is the question that haunts Alexander Cleave, an actor in the twilight of his career and of his life, as he plumbs the memories of his first--and perhaps only--love (he, fifteen years old, the woman more than twice his age, the mother of his best friend; the situation impossible, thrilling, devouring and finally devastating) . . . and of his daughter, lost to a kind of madness of mind and heart that Cleave can only fail to understand. When his dormant acting career is suddenly, inexplicably revived with a movie role portraying a man who may not be who he says he is, his young leading lady--famous and fragile--unwittingly gives him the opportunity to see with aching clarity the "chasm that yawns between the doing of a thing and the recollection of what was done."
"Ancient Light" is a profoundly moving meditation on love and loss, on the inscrutable immediacy of the past in our present lives, on how invention shapes memory and memory shapes the man. It is a book of spellbinding power and pathos from one of the greatest masters of prose at work today.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-09-24
- Reviewer: Staff
In Man Booker Prize-winner Banville's 16th novel, the Irish author reprises the character of Alex Cleave, who first appeared in 2000's Eclipse, and then two years later in Shroud. Cleave, a has-been theater actor, reminisces about his 15th summer, "half a century ago," when he had an affair with his best friend's mother, Mrs. Gray, who, he tells us, was "unhappy then," lest readers judge her too harshly for bedding a minor. Interwoven with this vividly drawn summer is Cleave's current existence, which is saturated with pain and regret: His daughter, Cass, flung herself off the Italian coast 10 years ago, and his wife, Lydia, still sleepwalks in the night to rampage through the house in search of her. When, out of the blue, Cleave is offered a role in a biopic of literary critic Axel Vander entitled The Invention of the Past, life and art intertwine beguilingly for Alex, who is engaged in the tricky business of inventing his own past; how is he to unravel the strands of his existence when memory is such an unreliable muse? The problem with this book is that the past is beautifully—perfectly—imagined; it's Alex's over-determined present that's unbelievable. First printing: 60,000. (Oct.)
The weight of memory
John Banville’s Ancient Light is a trip through a hall of mirrors, where memory unfolds into memory and is scattered into a thousand angles, each one staring back in lurid detail. It’s all source material for our narrator Alex Cleave, retired actor and now memoirist. But for him, for us, the material source of the images he recalls is the most elusive thing in the world.
Through Cleave’s narration, we shift among three time periods—two viscerally remembered and one presently lived—and all the women who have mattered in his life. The first is Mrs. Gray, his lover, him at age 15 and she at 35, and the mother of his then-best friend. Their tryst is recounted in striking detail, vivid to the point of upstaging his present. But when Cleave is unexpectedly cast as the lead in a film along with megastar Dawn Devonport, the present begins to claim more of his attention, while drawing increasingly close to his past. As Cleave stacks one crisp memory on top of another, the edifice of his story begins to quiver beneath the weight.
Recipient of the 2005 Man Booker Prize, Banville is peerless in his steadfast precision of language. Ultimately it is his masterful, high style prose that makes Ancient Light shine.