Eclipse by John Banville

Picador, 2010, 218 p. First published in 2000.

Eclipse cover

Actor Alexander Cleave (the same Cleave who would reappear in Banville’s later Shroud and Ancient Light, it seems I have read this sequence of Banville books out of publication order) has retired from the stage and gone back to his childhood home. It is somewhat rundown, but holds memories in nearly every room. In it Cleave hears faint sounds and imagines it might be haunted – in fact sees his father one day in a doorway. But it turns out Quirke, the solicitor charged with its care, and his fifteen year-old daughter, Lily, who has been taken on ostensibly as a housekeeper, are living in some of the vacant rooms.

The narrative is almost all Cleave’s musings and remembrances – there is very little dialogue in the novel – yet despite there not being much in the way of plot (the only significant occurrence in the book occurs off the page) Banville readily manages to hold the attention. There is something almost liquid in his sentences, each is perfectly constructed and the word choices are usually immaculate.

The eclipse of the title is both actual (that of 1999 takes place during the course of the novel) but also metaphorical. That significant occurrence is, though, foreshadowed when Cleave says, ‘I have the feeling, the conviction, I can’t rid myself of it, that something has happened, something dreadful, and I haven’t taken sufficient notice, haven’t paid due regard, because I don’t know what it is.’

This is a portrait of a man who has glided through life apparently without it really touching him or he it, only approaching animation when pretending, on the stage, to be someone else, but in the end faced with that “something dreadful” about which nothing can be done. Most lives have at least one of those.

Pedant’s corner:- “outside of me” (outside me ,) “door hinges squeak tinily” (tinily? In a small way? I don’t think so. Tinnily makes more sense,) duffel coat (duffle coat is the British spelling) “carrying in one hand that seemed a trident” (what seemed a trident,) accordeon (accordion, several instances,) slips-ons (slip-ons,) “and Quirke he came forward” (doesn’t need the “he”.)

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