Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: "Ancient Light" by John Banville

John Banville is an author who I keep going back to for little else other than tradition. I always try to read at least one of his books a year, despite not having had the same kind of experience as when I first read them. I have read five of his books, including the one I just read this year, his most recent novel Ancient Light. Most of them have been okay, some have been not okay, but his literary world is one I don’t mind visiting occasionally, even if the journey is exponentially better than the destination. But this book is quite good when it wants to be, providing some of Banville’s best prose moments since The Book of Evidence and The Sea, probably his most famous novel. It also provides a neat little story that is outside Banville’s comforts zone, which brings with it both good qualities and bad ones. The main character is Alex Cleave, an aging stage actor who has just been offered a role in a big budget movie. The role he is offered brings up painful memories for him of the time when he was a young man and had an affair with his best friends mother, whom he still considers to be the love of his life. This, along with the mysterious suicide of his daughter years ago, forces him to confront the many inconsistencies in his memories, and decipher if they are real or imagined to hide some sort of long forgotten pain. The passages about memory are Banville at his best, throwing in contradictory anecdotes and facts that really keep the reader on his toes, especially towards the end. But since Banville is new at this, he puts all his focus on Alex, and none on the people around him, like his grieving wife or new co-star who reminds him of his daughter. Banville is easily one of our greatest writers working today, and even a second or third-rate novel from him is still pretty good.

Rating: 4/5

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