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Eclipse by John Banville

Eclipse (original 2000; edition 2001)

by John Banville

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467922,172 (3.42)7
Authors:John Banville
Info:Picador (2001), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, english, contemporary, old men, series

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Eclipse by John Banville (2000)


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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Procrastination of scholarly work made sure I had to read this book in a very short amount of time. Some nuances will probably be lost on me, but I think I got the gist of it. 'Eclipse' is written in a very lyrical style, resulting in some absolutely ridiculous sentences, but at the same time creating a rather speficic rhythm that serves the story quite nicely.

The story itself is about an actor called Alexander, a rather disjointed figure who has never actually managed to live in the real present day world. Symbolically, he abandons everything to live in the house where he was raised, a house that is somewhat haunted. One could argue the real ghosts are the living - they are the people who seem out of place in the novel. Identity is very problematic in this book. Every character is marked by a big empty void, a lack of motivation/inspiration/etc. Fascinating, but not really a book that will leave you smiling.

Which, of course, doesn't mean you should avoid this novel. It's quite well written and has some interesting ideas. Probably won't leave a lasting impression though. ( )
  WorldInColour | Oct 12, 2013 |
As always, the prose is utterly amazing. A man examining his life in his childhood home, visited by ghosts. No plot, no resolution; perhaps that's life but it makes for a slow read. I thought Shroud, the second in this trilogy, is much stronger. ( )
  ghefferon | Nov 28, 2012 |
Maybe I should've realized when first reading ECLIPSE 12 years ago (or at least after reading SHROUD in 2002) that Alex Cleave would become Banville's next Freddy Montgomery, but it took the publication of ANCIENT LIGHT for that realization to dawn. (Not to mention that I'd forgotten altogether that the name Quirke had occurred prior to Banville's Benjamin Black incarnation. Some Banville student I've turned out to be.) But to belatedly attempt to get straight on things as I'm rereading...

ECLIPSE features vain but broken actor Cleave in the immediate aftermath of his disgrace--forgetting his lines and leaving the stage--a disgrace that seems very far away in ANCIENT LIGHT. It will seem very far away at the end of this novel, too, because this plot illuminates (from Cleave's point of view) the moment of his daughter Cass's suicide (10 years' past at the time of ANCIENT LIGHT). There are events in life that eclipse everything; Cass's death is one of those.

The entire novel functions as a kind of premonition. A shamed exile from his own life, Cleave has returned to his childhood home to, in Banville's complex figuration, both escape and find himself. What he finds is a weirdly un-empty house. His caretaker Quirke and Quirke's slovenly 15-year-old daughter Lily have taken up stealthy residence. Also lurking on the property are the ghosts of a young woman and her child. An awkward father-daughter-ish relationship develops between Cleave and Lily--a sorry shadow of the desperate relationship with Cass that he's struggling to comprehend (and forgive himself for). He even spies on Quirke--the comic parent to his thespian tragedian.

His relentlessly mixed feelings for his mentally distressed, impossibly difficult daughter are a constant torment to him. But his preoccupation with nursing his own fragile but monumental ego keeps his connections to others tenuous at best. A perfect symbol of this is the telephone he has ripped from the wall, the better to contemplate his identity crisis and obsessions--including his daughter. Meanwhile, the only traditional "plot" element (late in the novel) is Cass's last, broken and desolate attempt to phone.

Phone calls play an intriguing role throughout--especially a mysterious call from someone in Cass's mysterious life. Is this Axel Vander, narrator of the novel-to-come, SHROUD? We can't know at the time ECLIPSE was published and first read. The premonitory ghosts, of course, are those of Cass and her unborn child.

Why do we always end up feeling as though Banville, the master holding all the cards, planned his body of work a long, long time ago? (There's even a reference to the artist Vaublin's pierrot from GHOSTS--speaking of Freddy Montgomery....) ( )
1 vote beaujoe | Oct 15, 2012 |
John Banville won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. Of his 14 novels, Eclipse is the 7th I have read. At first, I feared this one did not have the interesting characters I have come to expect from Banville, but as I traveled more and more deeply into the novel, I realized my fears had no basis when confronted with the power of his prose. Banville always provides an interesting plot, characters drawn in great and interesting detail, with lots of introspection – exactly the kind of novel I love.

Alexander Cleave has built a career as an acclaimed actor performing all over the world. One day, he steps onto the stage and goes “dry.” He can “see” his lines, yet he cannot utter a word. He skulks off the stage to a falling curtain and some cat calls from the audience. He retreats to his abandoned childhood home by the sea to escape his shame. As an actor, who has spent his life living an imaginary existence in the clothes and character of strangers, he has difficulty separating reality from fantasy. He lives mostly in the past.

Banville used the idea of a retreat in his Booker Prize novel. In The Sea, Max has lost his wife to divorce, and travels to his boyhood home to sort out the ruins of his marriage. Alex retreats to sort out the ruins of his career. Banville’s prose delves into all the minutiae of Alex’s life as well as his deep-seated psychological self-examination.

The use of detail can be overwhelming, but in order to travel through Alex’s life, it becomes necessary to an understanding of how he arrived at the house by the sea. Here is an example as Alex begins to unpack when he arrives at his retreat:

“Things to do, things to do. Store the kitchen supplies, set out my books, my framed photographs, my lucky rabbit’s paw. Too soon it was all done. There was no avoiding upstairs any longer. Grimly I mounted the steps as if I were climbing into the past itself, the years pressing down on me, like a heavier atmosphere. Here is the room looking out on the square that used to be mine. Alex’s room. Dust, and a mildew smell, and droppings on an inside sill where birds had got in through a broken windowpane. Strange, how places, once so intimate, can go neutral under the dust-fall of time. (17)

Whenever, I read Banville, I must have a dictionary close at hand. Every novel helps me add five or six words to my vocabulary. For example, in Eclipse I learned “anaglyptal,” “tannoys,” “verrucas,” “crepuscular,” “sizar,” and “leverets.” I will leave the adventure of a dictionary search to my faithful readers.

Banville writes, “It was that torpid hour of afternoon in summer when all falls silent and even the birds cease their twitterings. At such a time, in such a place, a man might lose his grip on all that he is” (76). Having spent many, many summer days by the ocean, I understand this sentiment entirely. Banville has heightened my desire to get back near the ocean, for night time walks on the beach and lazy fall and spring days reading under an umbrella with the soft breeze in my face. 5 stars

--Jim, 10/15/11 ( )
1 vote rmckeown | Oct 15, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Banvilleprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sterre, Jan Pieter van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375725296, Paperback)

In this deeply moving and original book, John Banville alloys mystery, fable, and ghost story with poignant psychological acuity to forge the riveting story of a man wary of the future, plagued by the past, and so uncertain in the present that he cannot discern the spectral from the real.

When renowned actor Alexander Cleave was a boy living in a large house with his widowed mother and various itinerant lodgers, he encountered a strikingly vivid ghost of his father. Now that he’s fifty and has returned to his boyhood home to recover from a nervous breakdown on stage, he is not surprised to find the place still haunted. He is surprised, however, at the presence of two new lodgers who have covertly settled into his old roost. And he is soon overwhelmed by how they, coupled with an onslaught of disturbing memories, compel him to confront the clutter that has become his life: ruined career, tenuous marriage, and troubled relationship with an estranged daughter destined for doom.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:16 -0400)

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A retired actor examines his life and career in the hope of discovering his true self.

(summary from another edition)

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