Ancient Light – John Banville

Published July 6, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

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.”

What did I think?:

This is a book mainly about memory and its lapses, but the underlying story is one of Alexander Cleave, sixty years old, reminiscing about when he was fifteen years old and had an affair with a thirty-five year old woman, the mother of his best friend. As he tells the story of how the affair came to pass, how it continued, and how it ended. During the reminiscing, the reader begins to wonder what exactly the truth of the matter is, and what is his memory mistakenly filling in the gaps. Alexander even admits himself during his recollections, that the details are a bit hazy, the seasons inter-change, and he seems to struggle with the finer points. Alexander is an actor by trade, although he doesn’t seem to count any of his past work as particularly notable, and when he is asked to appear in a film, he begins to look over his past more deeply, including the loss of his troubled daughter, who committed suicide as a young woman.

The first thing I noted about this book, and it’s the first John Banville novel I have read, is the richness of the vocabulary. The writing is so descriptive and beautiful, and reading it on the Kindle was an absolute joy as a couple of new words popped up that I was able to decipher at the touch of a button! The story of his affair with Mrs Gray is quite graphic, but incredibly compelling although I found myself irritated by both characters – Mrs Gray seemed to treat Alex like a surrogate son albeit one that she sleeps with, which was a bit creepy. Alex himself seemed to react to Mrs Gray like any lovestruck adolescent, but with an incredibly juvenile attitude, which led to anger and spite on more than one occasion. We do find out at the end what became of Mrs Gray, and the whole issue of memory and invention comes into play again. I did enjoy this book though, and look forward to reading Banville’s Booker winning novel, The Sea at a later date.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art


One comment on “Ancient Light – John Banville

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