Sunday, October 12, 2008

The reality of unreality (Books - Eclipse by John Banville)

"What is it?" Lydia said without looking up and for a second I thought she had somehow been reading my mind. "What's wrong with you, what is the matter? What" - wearily - "what has happened to you?"

The apples were a pale whitish green and each bite came away with a satisfying, woody snap. I remember them; to this day I remember them.

"I have the feeling," I said, "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."

She was silent, then gave a sort of laugh, and sat up and rubbed her hands vigorously on her upper arms, as if she had become chilled, keeping her face turned away from me.

"Maybe it's your life," she said. "That's disaster enough, isn't it?"

Alexander Cleave falls apart and he goes to live among the ghosts that haunt his life. As an actor he has always made lives, but now that his own has fallen apart he can't seem to put it back together. He has the actor's occupational hazard of studying those around him.

I confess I have always been fascinated by nature's anomalies. Mine is not the eagerness of the prurient crowd at a freak-show, nor is it, I insist again,, the anthropologist's cold inquisitiveness or the blood-lust of the pitiless dissector; rather, it is the gentle dedication of the naturalist, with his net and syringe. I am convinced I have things to learn from the afflicted, that they have news from elsewhere, a world in which the skies are different, and strange creatures roam, and the laws are not our laws, a world that I would know at once, if I were to see it.

It is as though Alex thinks that, by retreating to his childhood home, he can take refuge in this other world, but sadly for him, it does not exist. A strange cast of characters live in this house along with Alex, a middle aged care taker, a fifteen-year-old girl, and eventually Alex's wife. This group's identities mix with the characters of his past so that Alex begins to have a harder time than usual time separating fantasy from reality.

There is something at once unsettling and tantalising about a locked door with someone sitting behind it hour on hour in silence. When I knocked at Cass's room that day, standing in the corridor clutching a hank of her hair, I had the feeling that I always had on such occasions, a mingling of dread and vexation, and a peculiar, stifled excitedness - Cass, after all, is capable of anything. And I felt foolish, too. A buttery lozenge of late sunlight lay fatly on the carpet runner at my feet. I spoke through the door to her and got no response. There was the circus music - no, no, that is now, not then; things are running together, collapsing into each other, the present inot the past, the past into the future. My head feels full of something...

"A buttery lozenze of late sunlight lay fatly on the carpet runner at my feet." What a gorgeous sentence. You could eat it. The circus spoken of become the scene of a terrific climactic scene and the denoument that follows is touching and well earned. This novel is nearly entirely an interior landscape and the world that Banville creates is one of grief and longing of a man who can no longer hide. He is particularly good at creating the reality of the kind of experience that, though it happens in "real life" seems to be entirely unreal. The book is a thoughtful and imaginative and though it is short in length, I did not find it a breezy or quick read. It is beautiful and hypnotic.

My other thought's on John Banville's Eclipse are here, here, here, and here.

Jude the Obscure
Middlemarch
(in progress)
Tanglewreck
Among the Russians
Proust and the Squid

Red Cavalry (in progress)
Eclipse
Darkmans
The Solitudes (started, don't know if I'll get through it)
Rhythms of the Brain
Neuroscience of Cognitive Development
(in progress)
Attachment, Play, and Authenticity (in progress)
The Dead Fish Museum
In the Land of No Right Angles

2 comments:

verbivore said...

I'm curious if you have read any other Banville novels, or, if like me, Eclipse was the first? I have this fear that by some trick of timing I've actually now read his most beautiful work and if I try another it won't measure up. Apparently, Eclipse has a sequel of sorts as well...

Ted said...

verb - It was my first too. But I have someone who has promised to loan me a copy of The Sea, which he raves about (and several other friends have too), and I have reserved Christina Falls at the libarary.