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The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea gives us a brilliant, profoundly moving new novel about an actor in the twilight of his life and his career: a meditation on love and loss, and on the inscrutable immediacy of the past in our present lives.
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.”
Ancient Light is a profoundly moving meditation on love and loss, on the inscrutable immediacy of the past in our present lives, on how invention shapes memory and memory shapes the man. It is a book of spellbinding power and pathos from one of the greatest masters of prose at work today.
“The prose of the new book has a kind of luxuriant beauty, and, given the number of gorgeous arias written in difficult keys with many sharps and flats, the novel has the feel of a feverish atonal chamber opera. . . . One stopped moment gives way to the next, like flowers pressed into other flowers, producing a glut of epiphanies and a certain heady perfume. . . . It’s as if the prose has shouldered the entire burden of undoing death and loss, an ambition rarely seen in contemporary letters. One reads Ancient Light in a state of slightly stunned admiration and disbelief that anyone still believes in literary art sufficiently to call upon its resources for these particular ends. . . . The book demands a response at the highest levels, aesthetically and spiritually.” —Charles Baxter, The New York Review of Books
“A slyly constructed and stylistically buoyant novel. . . . The ending [is] shattering and genuinely surprising.” —Christopher Benfey, New York Times Book Review
“A devastating account of a boy’s sexual awakening and the loss of his childhood. . . . Ancient Light tells an adolescent love story comparable with Turgenev’s great novella First Love. Seamless, profound, and painfully true to the emotional lives of his characters, it is an unsettling and beautiful work.” —Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal
“Ancient Light is a brilliant meditation on desire and loss, which also skillfully reminds us, even warns us, that ‘Madam Memory is a great and subtle dissembler.’. . . [Contains] page upon page of luxurious, lyrical prose.” —Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Banville’s genius for description puts the reader in the picture completely. . . . [He is] an exquisite prose stylist.” —Valerie Ryan, Shelf Awareness
“Beautiful. . . . Banville is the heir to Proust, via Nabokov.” —Daily Beast
“A breathtaking new novel. . . . 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. 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, Booklist (starred)
“Banville perfectly captures the spirit of adolescence, the body of 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. . . . This is a luminous, breathtaking work.” —Leyla Sanai, Independent on Sunday
“The prose is precise, beautiful, musical, freshly sprung. . . . Banville is often compared to Nabokov and Joyce, but Ancient Light recalls a line of Virginia Woolf’s: ‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.’ Catch [the light] right, as Banville does, and everything is illuminated.” —Tom Gatti, The Times
“Luminescent. . . . Illuminating and often funny but ultimately devastating. . . . The different periods of [Alexander’s] life blend into a single 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.” —Claire Kilroy, Financial Times
“This is a novel full of journeys into the unreachable past, filled with a Proustian yearning for a time which seems at once unreachably distant and vividly present. . . . Banville’s writing is filled with moments of vision . . . His mastery of language is an intense delight.” —Jane Shilling, Evening Standard
“Often wrenching. . . . Ancient Light works well as a meditation on memory and the lies we permit it to tell us. But the novel comes to life when it shakes off philosophy and sinks into the sensory. . . . Banville excels in his brightly lit descriptions of self-absorbed teenage lust.” —The Guardian
“Banville’s prose, as gorgeous and precise as in his 2005 Man Booker winner The Sea, evokes scenes so that they burn in the reader’s mind.” —Jake Kerridge, Sunday Express
“A bedazzling new novel. . . . What the illicit pair get up to is evoked half lyrically, half comically, and with all the grace and aplomb we expect from this author. . . . At its core is a moment out of time, though universal in its implications, and intensely remembered, while at the same time taking account of all the memory’s lapses, tricks, and stratagems.” —Patricia Craig, Independent
“Another novelist, sharing the gifts on display in these passages for glittering visual evocation, expressed in a tone at once fresh and wistfully ironic, might have been satisfied to keep things at that–in other words to turn out a nicely rounded but inevitably somewhat familiar recollection tale of a long-ago summer love gone sour. But Banville is too interesting and questioning a writer to be bound by such caution. . . . [Later,] we seem to have stepped for a moment into something by the great Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago–a world at once random, dreamlike, and deeply experienced.” —Adam Lively, Sunday Times
“We’re in a world where the past is more vivid than that present, and the dead somehow more alive than the living. . . . Startlingly brilliant.” —John Preston, Sunday Telegraph
“Banville, with his forensic sensory memory, his great gift for textural (and textual) precision, his ability to inhabit not just a room, as a writer, but also the full weight of a breathing body, is exactly in his element here. . . . Cleverness is on display, and nothing might be quite what it seems, but Banville’s duty of care, to the emotional lives of his characters, to the worlds in which they live, is not neglected for a moment.” —Tim Adams, Observer
“Ancient Light dazzles. . . . It is a work of commanding artistry, each scene exquisitely realized in burnished prose. . . . Banville’s unmatched descriptive artistry [fixes] every fleeting moment and sensation mind with painterly precision. . . . First, there’s that pitch-perfect double narrative, a story told simultaneously from the old man’s and the teenager’s point of view. [And] at the end, after Ancient Light has taken us into howling tragedy, there is a scene of such haunting beauty that I shan’t defile it by attempting to describe it.” —David Robinson, Scotsman
“A novel of unsettling beauty, demanding perhaps and spiked by humour, but ultimately inescapably moving.” —Matthew Dennison, Spectator
“This gorgeously written novel about the tricks of memory is recounted in prose that lingers on every last physical and psychological detail.” —Anthony Cummins, Metro
“Magnificently written. . . . Will delight fans of Banville’s work. . . . Emotionally resonant though it is, the novel is also characteristically erudite.” —Joanne Hayden, Sunday Business Post
“Banville proves again that he is among the most lyrical of contemporary novelists. . . . We can luxuriate in the luminous prose.” —Michael Arditti, Daily Mail