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Eclipse Hardcover – February 20, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
From Library Journal
The Banvillian narrator is often antisocial to the point of alienating his own audience. Armed with perfect diction, he uses language to hole up in an exclusive, hopelessly cool state of mind where the well-adjusted are unwanted. Esteemed stage actor Alexander Cleave is the latest in a line of haunted white males from Banville (The Untouchable). Beleaguered by a premonition of death, he quits the summer tour to live in his dilapidated childhood home, much to his wife's contempt. Although his seemingly irrational fears do have a climax, it will leave readers dumbfounded. This has a lot to do with the misleading "plot"Aa tedious chain of Alexander's memories about his tortured mother and aloof father. Banville's leading man is at his best when he plays a caring father to the housekeeper Quirke's daughter, but this comes too late. Not recommended.
-AHeather McCormack, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The following features seem most prominent to me:
- Banville knows when and how to peak the interest of the reader to make it possible for you to last through a purposefully uneventful story. I have no doubts that he would be able to keep reader's interest throughout the whole narration if he wanted to. However, the aura of slight boredom seems to be pre-calculated and necessary for the culmination.
- The exact issues, emotions and personalities brought to life in the book, may have nothing to do with your particular experiences. But the book touches you on a very deep personal level, stirring thoughts and emotions and leaving you with a sensation of a bliss (half hysterical of course).
In my mind it is humiliating for Banville to be compared to any other author: he is quite a master by himself. So the following string of names is just to bring up associations. If you liked reading any of the following authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Heinrich Boell, Marcel Proust, Aldous Huxley, John Dos Passos, and of course Banville's famed predecessor, James Joyce, you have a high chance to enjoy the "Eclipse".
There are times I think that Banville reads with utter glee the reviews of his own novels, rubs his hands together while cackling and says, "Think that last one was ambiguous and oblique? You ain't seen nothing yet!" Only with a cool accent (I assume he speaks with an accent, at least to these American ears). Then he comes out with something else delightfully enigmatic, with that finely tuned prose laid so softly that you can easily hear the gnashing of teeth from people attempting to "get" it.
If you're someone who likes to feel like you're on a similar wavelength to whatever the author is transmitting, this one is probably going to frustrate you. I can't even say it's his most evasive plot, as I thought "Athena" was as solid as fraying gossamer and from I remember of "Book of Evidence" I suspect I'd have a different interpretation of the book if I read it a second time. The plot itself, or what persists of it, is fairly straightforward: Alexander Cleave, former famous actor, comes back to his old house and decides to get lost in memories. Along the way he hangs out with the guy who takes care of the house and his teenage daughter. He argues with his wife. He waits for his daughter. Things happen without really happening. At some point, life happens, or at least Banville's fractured stained glass version of life, pristine from a distance. It's only when you get close enough that you can see where the moisture is starting to seep in.
If there's one word to describe the book, it's probably "static". We're not quite at Beckett levels but from a very real standpoint the book is completely wrapped in words. Snatches of dialogue poke through, like that one Pink Floyd album everyone likes but for the most part the voice that breaks through is that of the narrator, telling us about himself. But like most Banville narrators he's not exactly vibrant and full of zest, instead for the most part he's clinical and slightly distant, speaking with a precise diction that lights a slow fire without ever bursting into screams, like that weird town in Pennsylvania that never stops burning underground. You can see the signs that things are getting hot and that someday something bad is going to happen but for the most part, it's not so bad to visit.
None of this would have a prayer of working if Banville didn't have such control of his prose. While his narrators are often cut from the same dry cloth, he's often able to shade things so that one can never be mistaken for the other. His other characters might have given off a tinge of menace, but here Cleave comes across as both weary and sad, wandering through the haunted rooms of his own life and not sure if he's become a ghost himself or he's doing a fairly good impression of one. Along the way he treats us to scenes from his life, memories, ruminations, like someone who has dumped out all the contents of his life onto the floor and is trying to figure out whether it's worth sorting out or if he should just chuck it all in and say the heck with it. As such, you're not dealing with a conventional plot and any enjoyment of this is going to depend on how much you tune into Banville's "voice" via Cleave, as all the events come across as somewhat incidental, stray instances from a life that has been in the process of slowing down. If you're like me and you enjoy his writing style, you could read about him describing the exits on a highway all day and derive some interest out of it. If you're waiting for a plot or mystery to kick in, you're in for a long wait. He throws in ghosts and hints of buried memories but those come across as feints, something to keep the kiddies interested as he digs deep into the character. There's even an undercurrent of "Waiting for Godot", as he and his wife alternate waiting for their daughter to arrive from wherever she is, talking about her as if she's right outside.
That alone probably keeps the novel from being as effective as it could be. It hums along pleasantly enough but as soon as it starts to gather enough mass to steer itself into the direction of Cleave actively affecting events as opposed to merely drifting through his memories, the book is practically over. A late tragic event shows that Banville still retains his ability to infuse some good old fashioned emotional power into the proceedings, as we're touched by the death of someone we never even meet. But is the point of the book to lead up to all that, or are we meant to find other reasons and meanings in the displays? It's hard to say, and as typical for Banville, he's not quite saying. Sometimes his prose seems to me a wondrous approximation of a version of life infused with a shimmering poetry, all ice vowing never to be melted. And for all the seemingly aimlessness of its episodic structure, this is one of his few books that is willing to let that ice crack slightly, and allow a little blood to seep to the surface. Only a little, and you have to stick with it to find it but its enough to remind you that a heart can exist underneath those stacked prisms and its more than an empty construction of exquisite words.