John Banville. Alfred A. Knopf, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41129-8
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.
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001