Ancient Light
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Ancient Light

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  1,450 ratings  ·  324 reviews
The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea gives us a brilliant, profoundly moving new novel about an actor in the twilight of his life and his career: a meditation on love and loss, and on the inscrutable immediacy of the past in our present lives.

Is there any difference between memory and invention? That is the question that fuels this stunning novel, written with th...more
Published October 2nd 2012 by Random House Audio (first published 2012)
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29th out of 152 books — 256 voters
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“Remember what April was like when we were young, that sense of liquid rushing and the wind taking blue scoops out of the air and the birds beside themselves in the budding trees?”

Yes, I do. How well do you remember?

Alex Cleave has been cloven (sliced) asunder ever since his daughter committed suicide 10 years earlier. A fragmented and disembodied man conjures the ghosts of his two lost loves--his daughter and his first lover but finding those spirits and remembering the truth challenge the st...more
May 19, 2014 Dolors rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who get nourishment from poetry
Shelves: read-in-2014
It was a scorching afternoon. Wait. Or was it an evening?
Ah, the flimsy line between erratic memories and induced imagination! What I distinctly remember is my spontaneous decision to take a bath in the unruly ocean of Alexander Cleave’s consciousness. Wait. Or was it Banville’s?
A game of mirrors where truth and identity play a silent role in the undulating waves of painfully selected words composing the swaying tide of androgynous prose that wash the shores of beguiling poetry.

Words. Those ina...more
There are no certainties in Ancient Light, just wisps, shadows and fragments. It is as if John Banville has written the entire novel from odd scraps and shreds of possibilities. The reader feels the breath of these possibilities on his cheek but cannot distinguish their exact shape. We feel there may be connections between the events recounted in the present time of the novel and those of the past, between the ‘real’ characters and the ‘absent’ ones, but rarely are our suppositions confirmed. Ou...more
That’s exactly how I remember it……

Banville is often compared to Nabokov so I suppose it's inevitable that he write his own version of a "Lolita" story but with the twist that it's from a male perspective this time. Here Alexander Cleave, a boy of fifteen, is the victim. Banville's use of language and his sense of humor are staggering. He doesn't so much provide belly laughs as he does a nod or a chuckle for example a Hollywood film director stays at Ostentation Towers and another luminary is a p...more
The three stars I'm giving this book are actually erring on the side of generous, because my bafflement at the vague allusions to plot and coincidence that run through the novel without ever being resolved or illuminated (or anything very much happening with them) may in part have been my fault. Turns out this is the 3rd book in a trilogy of which I had not read the first two books, so much might have been different and less frustrating than it was, had I read the earlier books.

This is an extrem...more
John Banville is a master word craftsman and every word is a carefully selected brick, placed just so on the foundation to create an astounding edifice. Whether you like his latest book or not, you can’t help but feel in awe of his power of meticulous and ravishing wordsmithing.

This book focuses on a theme – “the doing of a thing and the recollection of what was done”, otherwise known as faulty memory. The entire novel is filtered through the thoughts of Alex Cleave, an aging actor, who is admit...more
Sheenagh Pugh
This book uses characters Banville has used before, in his novels Shroud and Eclipse: Alexander Cleave, semi-retired actor, his daughter Catherine ("Cass") and a controversial dead critic called Axel Vander who bears a resemblance to the real-life late Belgian critic and theorist Paul de Man. Those who've read these novels will already know something of the characters and what may have happened to them. However, since it's possible that others, like me, have never read a line of Banville before...more
ANCIENT LIGHT. (2012). John Banville. ****.
There are two references to ancient light in this novel. The first reference (p. 69) tells us that, according to a code of chartered surveyors of the time, householders had a right to ancient light, i.e., “the sky must be visible at the top of a window viewed from the base of the opposite wall.” I didn’t see where this helped me. But then I came across the second reference (p. 202): “Now he was speaking of the ancient light of galaxies that travels for...more
Not a whole lot happens in this book. From the outset, you know that Alex had an affair with his friend's mother about 50 years ago so that's old news. Then, as a 60 + year old, he gets asked to act in a film, something he's never done before (he was a stage actor). Not a lot happens there either.

His leading lady attempts suicide and he ends up taking her on a trip to Italy where his daughter took her own life some time previously. We never find out why.

Basically it goes on and on using otenta...more
“The Bud is in flower. Mud is Brown. I feel as fit as a Flea. things can go wrong.”

After devouring 267 pages of Ancient Light - like a fifteen-year-old schoolboy - I’m left to reflect on the meaning of breathtaking. From the opening 4 pages, which I instantly had to re-read, to the end I was hypnotized, infatuated and dare I say, in love… “Love may be too strong a word but I do not know a weaker
one that will apply”

“She looked down at herself and then at me and raised her eyebrows and made an O o...more
Ancient Light is an elegant disquisition on how the hermeneutics of the past may lead to our conjuring of and reckoning with our contemporary selves. The prose is an exquisite exploration of the depth of emotion through the act of rumination -- while much happens in the book, this is largely an interior book -- a book of cognition and interpretation. The layers of grief, melancholy and loss, tempered by a desire for human connection moved me repeatedly. The understanding of motives -- and the or...more
This is the third novel in a trilogy, a "real" trilogy if you will, and unlike Banville's two previous groupings, the "Revolutions Trilogy" (about the astronomers Kepler, Copernicus and, somewhat tangentially, Newton) or the unnamed art-history trilogy (which may or may not share a narrator in Freddie Montgomery), Ancient Light continues the parallel stories of the Irish stage-actor Alexander Cleave, his daughter Catherine (Cass) and the Belgian-born deconstructivist and academic bully Axel Vand...more
Cornelius Browne
Of the trio of trilogies that John Banville has now written, it seems with this summer's publication of Ancient Light that the earlier books (the Revolutions trilogy of Doctor Copernicus, Kepler and The Newton Letter, and the Freddy Montgomery trilogy of The Book of Evidence, Ghosts and Athena) have been trumped by the three strange and compelling novels centering on ageing actor Alexander Cleave, his painfully disturbed daughter Cass, and the literary theorist Axel Vander, who gave voice to the...more
Comer Duncan
This is a great book. It is as good a book as I have read by Banville. It is bitter-sweet, humorous, tragic, wistful, and intensely introspective. It induces a sense that memories are at least in part constructions as well as attempts at descriptions. The language is beautiful, as usual with Banville. It makes me wish I have kept a diary when I was in my teens and forward but alas I am in a position analogous to Banville's character Alex who is my (current) age and is trying to reconstruct a coh...more
James Wharton
In my opinion, John Banville is the master and every one of his books I've read has impressed me. Ancient Light didn't disappoint. That I don't like some of Banville's books as well as others would be expected. I haven't read every one of them although I will eventually. Like all of Banville's books, keep the dictionary or the word finder on your e-reader handy. His vocabulary is incredible, astounding and he's probably gone through half a dozen thesaurus' in his career.
The woman's slip on the...more
John Banville is one of my favourite authors and Ancient Light comes highly recommended by its blurber Sebastian Barry, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I expected to. That might just be because I loved The Infinities so much that my expectations were unreasonably high.

Ancient Light is edgier than its predecessor. Reviewers at GoodReads have noted that it's third in a trilogy comprising Eclipse (0n my TBR from way back) and Shroud which I read ages ago, but didn't much like. In the wake of...more
Banville is an exquisite writer and his skill is on full display in this novel. Unfortunately, the perfection of his descriptions can have the effect of making the emotions described in this novel (which should be incredibly intense, given that they include first love and the death of a child) seem removed and borderline clinical. Having read several other Banville novels, I trust, however, that the seeming remoteness of the narrative voice is a deliberate stylistic choice. Once I accepted the n...more
A stunningly beautiful book. And if the lead character, actor Alex, husband and bereaved father, is a little cold and narcissistic, this is more than offset by the powerful writing of this book. Banville's prose slips often into poetry and his musings on the fallibility of memory and the joys but (it seems mostly) pains of the past make for a fascinating place into which, as a reader to settle.
Kasa Cotugno
For the record, there is a large number of crumbling houses scattered around the British countryside (and Irish as well), just waiting for illicit summertime trysts usually between a teenager and an older party already married. The summer is always steamy as is the action, and the alliances will never come to a good end. No one ever curiously tromps onto the scene -- the garden is always a wreck. Or maybe it's the same house remembered at a remove of anywhere from 30 to 50 years, and one's partn...more
Joanne Sheppard
Ancient Light is beautifully written, full of allusions and hints and obscured suggestions, to the point where the experience of reading it felt more like reading a full-length prose-poem than a novel. Ostensibly about an ageing actor reminiscing about his boyhood affair with his best friend's mother and grieving for his adult daughter, who has died some years before in mysterious circumstances, it's really a novel about the past, about the fragility of memory and how what has gone before affect...more
Magnificent Stream of Consciousness Novel on Love, Memory and Loss

Among the finest prose stylists writing today in the English language, Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville has wrought a most memorable stream of consciousness novel, "Ancient Light" that explores the question whether one can distinguish between memory and invention. There are few writers in the English language capable of writing prose as distinctively memorable as Banville, who doesn't disappoint in a captivating,...more
A minor mystery of my reading life is why I persist in reading books by John Banville. I have read a couple of his books now and a couple of the genre novels he writes under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. I think I marginally prefer him in his Black guise, but none of his books really does very much for me.

Ancient Light may be the novel that finally convinces me to give up on this, in my view, over-rated author (not least by himself—when he received the Booker Prize for The Sea, he remarked that...more
Alexander Cleave is an actor who thinks he has retired and spends a lot of his time in his tiny attic office, writing about the past and remembering his first love.

“Billy Gray was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother.”

Alex Cleave was only fifteen years old when his unlikely five month long affair with Mrs Gray starts. Now in his sixties he thinks back on the stolen moments, the illicit meetings, his jealousies and the way it all ended. But even as he is writing down his memories he...more
Beautifully written, with such descriptive passages that you felt you were experiencing the same emotions that Alex was experiencing. I read this book however at a fairly emotional time- Alex was remembering past love, as am I at the minute. It's perhaps due to this that it struck such a chord with me. Half remembered situations, rose tinted glasses peering into the past, nostalgic pining,events that shaped your future self, all combines to make it a beautiful, and gentle read. A read that will...more
Debbie Robson
Ancient Light is the third book in the Alexander Cleaves series and I’m guessing it won’t be the last. Although it is a really enjoyable read, I believe it is technically the weakest. In the first book Eclipse we meet Cleave, an actor, who has had a breakdown on stage and has fled to his childhood home to recover. His marriage is also in trouble and whilst at his old home he reflects on the early years of his marriage to Lydia. He also ponders on the death of both his parents and his difficult,...more
I rarely give a high rating to a book that depends more on the quality of the writing than any other component, but in this case Banville's explorations of the vagaries of human memory are complex and evocative enough to make this work. I have no idea how this has not ended up on the literary awards lists of the year.

The book hinges on the memories of Alex Cleave as he revisits his brief summer affair with his best friend's mother when he was 15. But to call this just a story about illicit assi...more
Judith Hannan
I am tempted to write a long review for Ancient Light for that is what it would take to do justice to the exquisiteness of Banville's writing. There are examples on every page of combinations of words that are beautiful not ony for their meaning but for their rhythm and patterns of consonants and vowels, the alliteration that sounds organic rather than crafted, and their breadth; Banville picks the precise word he wants which meant I spent a bit more time with a dictionary than usual but it was...more
Diane Kistner
John Banville is a Man Booker Prize-winning writer, and I can see why. This is the first Banville I've read, so I don't know how the style of the writing in "Ancient Light" compares with his other works, but the book is clearly well written and filled with surprising imagery. This particular work reads as if it were written in the early twentieth century; chiefly British, it is genteel and somewhat restrained in tone and manner, even as it is at times lushly descriptive and poetic.

Some of the na...more
In drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlet, and to scholar Axel Vandel (See:Shroud), John Banville has created another beautiful novel on memory, identity, reflection, power, youth, and love (or sex), as a response to grief. Banville's powerful lines are delivered gently, as if to bloom inside the reader once they've passed his eyes, and I often thought this novel to be a lighter paralle...more
Ned Thacker
Banville's writing is so good, so fresh, so surprising here that as soon as you reach the end you want to go back to page one and savour it all afresh. Ancient Light shares some characters and plot elements with two earlier books - Shroud and Eclipse - but don't think of it as a cumulative trilogy: for every loose end tidied up, another twenty lacunae are revealed. The book is narrated by an aging actor recalling a youthful affair with an older woman. His memories are crystal-clear though often...more
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male character 2 17 Apr 23, 2013 06:48AM  
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Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up...more
More about John Banville...
The Sea The Book of Evidence (The Freddie Montgomery Trilogy, #1) The Untouchable The Infinities Shroud

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“¿Recordáis cómo era abril cuando éramos jóvenes, esa sensación de líquida impetuosidad y el viento extrayendo cucharadas azules del aire y los pájaros fuera de sí en los árboles que ya habían echado brotes?” 2 likes
“I guard my memories of my lost one jealously, keep them securely under wraps, like a folio of delicate watercolours that must be protected from the harsh light of day.” 2 likes
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