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...