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Ancient Light (Vintage International) Paperback – July 2, 2013

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307946924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307946928
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Settling into a meditative retirement, stage actor Alexander Cleave finds himself writing about the summer he was 15 and embroiled in a mad and taboo love. He much prefers recalling the wildness of his insistent young self than dwelling on the unhappy life and inexplicable death of his enigmatic daughter. Following the mischief of The Infinities (2010), Banville’s breathtaking new novel is defined by light, from the “ancient light” of the stars to the glimmering fool’s gold of memories. As Alex tries to pin down the uncomfortable truth about his delirious, risky affair with his best friend’s mother, he reflects on how all his desperate lies ultimately helped him become an actor. His lush if dismaying reverie is interrupted by an out-of-the-blue invitation to star in an American movie, a biopic about, of all subjects, a vile critic whose life may have some vague link to Alex’s daughter’s death. Banville, a writer of exquisite precision and emotional depth, writes with droll inquisition and entrancing sensuality in this suspenseful drama of the obliviousness of lust and the weight of grief. Alex’s misremembered love story and complicated movie adventures are ravishing, poignant, and archly hilarious as the past and present converge and narrow down to a stunning revelation. Banville is supreme in this enrapturing novel of shadows and illumination. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A wise, sad and achingly gorgeous book.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Transcendent. . . . [Banville’s] prose . . . has a kind of luxuriant beauty, and, given the number of gorgeous arias written in different keys in many sharps and flats, the novel has a feel of a feverish atonal chamber opera. . . . One reads Ancient Light in a state of slightly stunned admiration.”
—Charles Baxter, The New York Review of Books

“A brilliant meditation on desire and loss.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An adolescent love story comparable with Turgenev’s great novella ‘First Love.’ Seamless, profound . . . it is an unsettling and beautiful work.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Flashes with comedy. . . . [Filled with] Banville’s brilliant prose.”
The Plain Dealer

“The most striking thing about the book is the language. Line after line is stuffed with poetic effects.”
The New Yorker

“[A] meditation of breath­taking beauty and profundity on love and loss and death, the final page of which brought tears. The Stockholm jury should pick up the phone now.” —The Financial Times

“A luminous, breathtaking work. . . . Banville perfectly captures the spirit of adolescence, the body yearning for sexual experience, the mind blurring eroticism and emotion. . . . [He] is a Nabokovian artist, his prose so rich, poetic and packed with startling imagery that reading it is akin to gliding regally through a lake of praline: it’s a slow, stately process, delicious and to be savoured.”
The Independent (London)

“Beautiful. . . . Banville is the heir to Proust, via Nabokov.”
The Daily Beast

“A haunting vision of a past slipping away even as it is pursued.”
The Columbus Dispatch

Ancient Light lives up to its title as an accomplished tale of the tricks of memory and time that both comfort and deceive.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“The prose is precise, beautiful, musical, freshly sprung. . . . Catch [the light] right, as Banville does, and everything is illuminated.”
The Times (London)

“Sulky, sordid, and moving. The language soars, full of the beauty of nature and the sadness of loss.”
Marie Claire (UK)

 “Shows how first love remains our only love, how it spawns the pattern of our desires, how it imprints Eros on the soul. . . . Banville is such a masterful writer that we never lose our focus. . . . Heartbreaking.”
The Wichita Eagle

“Banville, a writer of exquisite precision and emotional depth, writes with droll inquisition and entrancing sensuality in this suspenseful drama of the obliviousnessness of lust and the weight of grief.” 
Booklist (starred)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of thirteen previous novels including The Book of Evidence, which was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

126 of 134 people found the following review helpful By Sid Nuncius TOP 100 REVIEWER on July 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Whether or not you like this book will depend on your response to Banville's style. The story is slow and contemplative; narrated by an ageing actor, it tells the story of his first sexual awakening in an affair with the mother of his best friend, the suicide of his daughter ten years ago and his current involvement in shooting a film. He often addresses the reader directly, describes things in unusual detail and digresses from the tale into odd preoccupations and observations. The book is about the nature of memory as much as anything - how we remember, misremember and unknowingly invent - and I think Banville does this brilliantly. He describes very believably how memories seem to work, realising for example that he remembers autumn leaves lying when the event must have taken place in April, or forgetting the content of a really important conversation but remembering small details about where it took place. He conjures astonishingly vivid scenes from minutiae like the smell of a stone wall by a road or the wafting of steam from a kettle, and comes up with some wonderful descriptions like the woman who "really is of the most remarkable shape, and might have been assembled from a collection of cardboard boxes of varying sizes that were first left out in the rain and then piled soggily any old way one on top of another."

It will probably be clear early on whether you are going to enjoy the book. The second paragraph of the book begins, "What do I recall of her, here in these soft pale days at the lapsing of the year?" and a few pages later, "...I would lie with my cheek resting on her midriff...and in my ear the pings and plonks of her innards at their ceaseless work of transubstantiation.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This story is told from the point of view of Alexander Cleave, a man in his early 60's. He has been a stage actor but has suddenly and unexpectedly been offered a role in a Hollywood film playing a disreputable rogue named Axel Vander. Alexander surprises himself by accepting the offer, and does research into Axel's life.

As we learn about Alexander's present day life, we know that he is married to his long-time wife Lydia and they are both still reeling and in mourning over the suicide of his daughter ten years earlier. She had jumped to her death off the balcony in a small scenic coastal Italian village, pregnant at the time. Alexander knew that his daughter had always been troubled but he did not know the reasons why she killed herself or who was the father of her child. He feels the need to find out.

Other present characters include a beautiful but troubled actress Dawn Davonport who co-stars with Alexander, and a production scout/sleuth named Billie Stryker who Alexander trusts to find an old flame.

That old flame was his best friend Billy's mother, a woman most often referred to as Mrs. Gray who seduced young Alexander when he was 15 and she was in her 30's. Their torrid but short-lived affair has a lasting effect on Alexander, yet as he reflects back on his life and memories he has trouble being sure if his memories can be trusted and the details correct.

This is just a beautiful novel. This is not a quick read by any means and this is the type of book where you want to read every sentence of every long descriptive paragraph because they are all so evocative and eloquent.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"BILLY GRAY WAS MY BEST FRIEND and I fell in love with his mother. Love may be too strong a word but I do not know a weaker one that will apply." With those two opening sentences Booker Prize winner John Banville begins his latest novel. Surely he tips his hat-- at least from a distance to Nabokov, both for his word play and people play-- but more closely to Henry James, whom he, like so many writers on that side of the Atlantic-- Colm Toibin and Alan Hollinghurst come to mind-- has acknowledged as being a major influence on his writing. On this side, James Baldwin's favorite writer was James. Banville's narrator is Alexander Cleave, an aging stage actor in his 60's, way past his prime, who is offered a role in a movie opposite a beautiful young actress Dawn Davenport. That is the here and now of the plot. But Cleave also weaves musings on his first love at fifteen with Mrs. Gray and the death of his only daughter Cass ten years ago by drowning-- and his own life-- what does it all mean if anything. While much of the action takes place within the head of Cleave, Mr. Banville does drop a couple of events or surprises near the end of the novel to bring the story at least to a partial conclusion. Of course as in most good fiction, some questions remain unanswered.

If I had to put what this novel is about is one sentence I would say it is about the unreliability of memory. Time and time again what Cleave remembers is not the way it was, or his memory of the same event is not the same as someone else's. Haven't we all experienced that? (My twin brother and I constantly remember the same happenings from our childhood that are completely different.
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