Eclipse by John Banville – Review

Alexander Cleave – returning to childhood home, nervous breakdown? maybe. Wife is very…domineering? Strong. Basically calls him a child before leaving him there. He’s frail, almost call him fey. He doesn’t seem to have any real center to himself.  He talks of himself as a shapeless form, a litany of disguises, one piled on top of the other. Acclaimed for playing Iago and Richard Crookback (big guys are essentially gentle, small guys hard).

Lydia – wife, seems to put up with him. While he seems harmless, he also seems like someone who needs a lot of patience, so she gets high marks from me. BUt she also seems to be growing tired of Alex’s, well, weaknesses.

Cass – Alex and Lydia’s daughter, coming back, Lydia believes she favors Alex.

Quirke – Hired as caretaker for Alex’s home, been there for year’s, the antithesis of Alex. Solid, gruff, almost vulgar and intimately comfortable in the house in a way that Alex isn’t For Alex it’s a home of his past, a place he almost seems to be retreating into. For Quirke, it’s a home of now. In his own gruff way, he seems to try to befriend Alex, but they just don’t seem quite compatible.

Ghosts –  Alex sees a woman in the window. When waking up one morning, he thinks a woman is standing in the corner of his bedroom. More of him living in the past, or bringing the past forward to exist with him.

Lily – Quirke’s daughter, reminds Alex of Cass, sleeps in the bed of Alex’s mother. A weird “Lolita” vibe in how Alex relates to her.

130 pages in and nothing is really moving forward. Alex is blah, stuck in his rut, unable or unwilling to move out of it. He has discovered that his caretaker and the “girl” live in the house and have always lived in the house (one of the benefits of the job, to Quirke) but, while this unsettles Alex, it doesn’t really change anything. Instead, the whole novel just keeps plodding along, listing from one non-event to another.

Alright, this is coming off as far more negative than I intended. The actual writing of Eclipse is very good. The technical aspects, I have a hard time arguing with. But nothing is really happening. The characters aren’t growing. Alexander Cleave just continues to be a miserable, lost, pathetic little creature. I want something to happen.

– – –

Alright, the wife has shown up. Big fight without a lot of fighting, a lot of introspection by Alex. At the end, he retreats to his hole, fairly certain his wife is still in the house, and he promises to not leave his hole until she is gone. I’m guessing he’s out by the following morning.

– – –

He was out and about. He takes Lily to the circus where she rushes into the ring where she is bizarrely hypnotized by the performer (no coin on a string here folks) and Alex goes through some empathetic memory/thought of losing himself to something, literally, before he rushes into the ring and “rescues” Lily from the performance. In the midst of this, he declares himself her father before leading her away, and she bursts into tears upon leaving the circus tent.

Upon returning to the house, the news is delivered that his actual daughter is dead. He and his wife, Lydia, venture to the Italian seaside town where we learn his daughter was pregnant when she threw herself into the sea where the surf and rocks had literally obliterated her face. Upon flying home, Alex tells Quirke that he’s leaving the house to Lily with the provision she never sells the place and that she lets him visit. Alex comes to the conclusion that the spirits he had been seeing may not have been the past at all, but some sort of visitation from the future. He sees his daughter/ghost one last time, and as she disappears into mist from behind the window, Alex turns to see Lily apparently trying to look out the window, too. He wonders if she is trying to see what Alex was seeing or if she was only looking out into the world, the way all youth do.

I’m not sad to have finished this story. I’m sure something can be made of Alex’s taking ownership of Lily just before discovering that Cass is dead, but I frankly don’t feel up to it.  It’s a tedious read, though well written. At the end, Alex seems to be drifting back into a world of make believe, retreating from the introspective reality that had been his goal at the beginning. He’s also leaving the house, venturing back to his real home. We also find out that Lily had lied about the reason her mother wasn’t around – she wasn’t dead, she had ran off with a shoe salesman.

So at the end we are left with this impression that at the heart of everything there isn’t a kernal of truth, but of a well made up falsity. That perhaps the idea of truth is a lie in itself,  that what we believe is true is true because we choose to believe it to be so. I can’t say I believe any of this, at least not to any great extent.

If you have the patience for Eclipse, it’s well done. I wasn’t in the mood for it, but pushed my way through it anyway.  So if my thoughts on it seem less than complementary, be forwarned, it likely had a knock against it before it started. Still, it seems to be a work that focuses on one man’s hollow misery. I find it difficult to feel anything for it.

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