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Ancient Light

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  1,813 ratings  ·  371 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
Published October 2nd 2012 by Random House Audio (first published May 1st 2010)
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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. StedmanBring Up the Bodies by Hilary MantelThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceThe Chemistry of Tears by Peter CareyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Man Booker Prize Eligible 2012
18th out of 151 books — 265 voters
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279th out of 367 books — 106 voters

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Steve Sckenda
“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

Once for a while you meet an author who you read for writing craftsmanship , for masterly style and then storyline seems to recede into the background . It doesn’t matter then if plot is too draggy in parts , if protagonists not always are likeable , if action is sometimes flagging . John Banville is that kind of writer . I have just fallen under the spell of his prose because it never fails . Smooth , mellifluous , multidimensional , bursting with emotions. Those older ones , faded and distant
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
Reviewed in October 2012

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 su
There are moments, infrequent though marked, when it seems that by some tiny shift or lapse in time I have become misplaced, have outstripped or lagged behind myself...And for that moment I am helpless, so much so that I imagine I will not be able to move on to the next place, or go back to the place where I was before--that I will not be able to stir at all, but will have to remain there, sunk in perplexity, mired in this incomprehensible fermata.

So it was, that I basked in the marvel that i
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
El eje central de ‘Antigua luz’ (Ancient Light, 2012), del irlandés John Banville, es la relación amorosa que mantuvo Alexander Clave cuando tenía quince años con la madre de su mejor amigo, la señora Gray, de treinta y cinco años. Alex rememora aquella época, cincuenta años después, en una historia que es más que un tórrido romance. Recuerdo y olvido juegan un papel importante en las paradojas que nos depara la memoria. Si bien los escarceos del joven Alex con la señora Gray son el hijo conduct ...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
Ancient Light by John Banville

Now he was speaking of the ancient light of galaxies that travels for a million--a billion--a trillion!--miles to reach us. "Even here," he said, "at this table, the light that is the image of my eyes takes time, a tiny time, infinitesimal, yet time, to reach your eyes, and so it is that everywhere we look, everywhere, we are looking into the past." (p. 202)

It isn't that Alexander Cleave is an unreliable narrator, it's more that his memory is an unreliable source. T
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.
When John Banville puts pen to paper, the results are always exciting, intellectually and aesthetically. His 2009 novel, The Infinities, still dazzles me with its perfect sentences, characters revealed in their depths and complexities, and a charming conceit which updates and makes real the influence of the ancient Greek gods (the eponymous Infinities) on Earth’s mere mortals. His scientist novels (Dr. Copernicus, and Kepler) are both intriguing. Yet despite my own fan status, I did not love Anc ...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
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
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
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
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
Clif Hostetler
This is a wispy dreamlike narrative of the memories of an older professional actor who is reflecting on past experiences while also describing what may be his last job of acting in a movie. His flashbacks to when he was 15 and had an illicit sexual affair with an older married woman provide a tension throughout the book that builds to a climatic ending with a twist.

There's a variety of components within the book that all seem to include a tie to the death of his daughter several years earlier.
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,
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
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
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male character 3 23 Jan 08, 2015 04:44PM  
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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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“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.” 3 likes
“These things that were between us, these and a myriad others, a myriad myriad, these remain of her, but what will become of them when I am gone, I who am their repository and sole preserver?” 3 likes
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