In John Banville's Eclipse a fiftyish actor dries up on stage and leaves the theater, and subsequently his wife. He moves into his childhood home, dilapidated and inhabited by squatters.
I loved to prowl the house like this when I was young. Afternoons were my favourite time, there was a special quality to afternoons indoors, a wiestfulness, a sense of dreamy distance, of boundless air all around, that was at once tranquil and unsettling. There were hidden portents everywhere. Something would catch my attention, anything, a cobweb, a damp patch on a wall, a scrap of old newspaper lining a drawer, a discarded paperback, and I would stop and stand gazing at it for a long time, motionless, lost unthinking. My mother kept lodgers, clerks and secretareis, schoolteachers, travelling salesmen. They fascinated me, their furtive and somehow anguished, rented lives. In habiting a place that could not be home, they were like actors compelled to play themselves. When one of them moved out I would slip into the vacated room and breathe its hushed, attentive air, turning things over, poking into corners, searching through drawers and mysteriously airless cupboards, diligent as a sleuth hunting for clues.
That is an actor all over. Life is a series of opportunities to imagine oneself inside the lives of others. It becomes a habit, you do it everywhere - on line at the supermarket, waiting for a subway. You collect other people's biographical or behavioral detritus - how they use their hands, what they read. You stand as they stand, feeling the shift of weight, if they shake the hair out of their eyes a certain way you find yourself unconsciously copying them just a few minutes later. You try to remember not to stare. I used to read biographies when I acted and find myself unconsciously slipping inside the lives of the subjects. Lives, behaviors are the medium of the actor and as the painter sketches and the writer scribbles in a pocket notebook so too the actor is compelled to practise.
Banville's Alex Cleave seems to have lost his grip.
"So what are you up to? Quirke said. "Down here, I mean."Banville captures that coming unravlled distractedness perfectly, and more than accurately, he finds a sad beauty in it. I am loving this book.
Last of evening in the window, dishwater light and the overgrown grass in the garden all grey. I wanted to say, I have lived amid surfaces too long, skated too well upon them; I require the shock of the icy water now, the icy deeps. Yet wasn't ice my trouble, that it had penetrated me, to the very marrow? A man thronged up with cold... Fire, rather; fire was what was needed... With a start I came back to myself, from myself. Quirke was nodding: someone must have said something of moment - Lord, I wondered, was it me? Often lately I would be startled to hear people replying to things I had thought I had only spoken in my head...
Isn't Banville absolutely to die for? He's my dad's favorite living author. I adore him. I love his Benjamin Black stuff, too - great 1950s Dublin noir.
I haven't read this one - so I must!! Banville can sometimes be a bit of a drip (haha - at least that's my dad's word for him - the sad middle-aged Irish man) - like, The Sea comes to mind - marvelous book, but God. I felt like I needed to let off some STEAM after reading it ... but I'll read anything he writes.
S - This is amazing writing and very psychologically perceptive. This is the only thing I've read of his. I tried the Shawl, I think it's called, but couldn't get into it.
How about drinks?
You HAVE to read his stuff as "Benjamin Black" - I can't remember if we have spoken of it. RUN - don't walk - and pick up a copy of Christine Falls!!
Yes - drinks!!
Oh, and you should read The Sea (if you like banville) ... That's his Booker book ... and yeah, it's definitely great.
He also wrote a book about Kepler (or was it Copernicus? I have forgotten) ... he's a deeply committed writer - Irish to the core (his thoughts on what it is like to be an irish writer and have to deal with the long shadow of joyce are wonderful) ... but, for me, it is the fact that he has consciously thrown off the shackles of "John Banville" and taken on another persona (the Benjamin Black persona) that truly marks him as a genius - He has said stuff like "John Banville takes 3 months to write 2 pages - but Benjamin Black writes an entire book in 2 weeks ..." It's a split personality. He has so loved NOT being John Banville in the Black books ... and you can feel it ... They are phenomenal: Christine Falls and Silver Swan ... They are Sam Spade books for the Irish set ... totally wonderful.
And yes - drinks!!
I am thrilled you are enjoying this book. And I love your comment about imagining yourself inside the lives of others. I do not have an acting background but I see the writer in me doing the same thing - the way faces change to express emotion, the way a person holds their body when they're tense or excited or scared. Just watching how someone's inner life is expressed on their outer shell - I suppose it is the ultimate voyeurism. But so fascinating.
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