by John Banville

Hardcover, 2000




London : Picador, 2000


In this deeply moving and original book, John Banville alloys mystery, fable, and ghost story with poignant psychological acuity to forge the riveting story of a man wary of the future, plagued by the past, and so uncertain in the present that he cannot discern the spectral from the real. When renowned actor Alexander Cleave was a boy living in a large house with his widowed mother and various itinerant lodgers, he encountered a strikingly vivid ghost of his father. Now that he’s fifty and has returned to his boyhood home to recover from a nervous breakdown on stage, he is not surprised to find the place still haunted. He is surprised, however, at the presence of two new lodgers who have covertly settled into his old roost. And he is soon overwhelmed by how they, coupled with an onslaught of disturbing memories, compel him to confront the clutter that has become his life: ruined career, tenuous marriage, and troubled relationship with an estranged daughter destined for doom.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
This John Banville novel shares a time-frame and characters with his book Shroud. I read Shroud first (about ten years ago), although Eclipse was the first of the two to be published. They have a single development in common for their respective endings, so that no matter in which sequence one
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might read them, the first will "spoil" the second in some measure. In neither case should that be a problem, though. The value of both books is in their language, the interior dramas of their first-person central characters (I hesitate to use the word "protagonist," particularly for Shroud), and the ways in which understandings dawn on them.

Eclipse is gentler by far than its sequel. Alex Cleave is a stage actor in the twilight of his career. His marriage is failing, and he returns to stay in the empty boarding house that he had inherited from his mother. In this place, he is subjected to a variety of hauntings. He has profound feelings of loss, but he is seeking solitude to identify their object, which remains obscure to him. As in Shroud (and even more so the novel which Banville wrote after that, the award-winning The Sea) much of the text consists of the reminiscences of an older man immersing himself in a nostalgic solitude.

This might be my least favorite of the Banville novels I've read to date, but it's still impressive and engaging.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
John Banville won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. Of his 14 novels, Eclipse is the 7th I have read. At first, I feared this one did not have the interesting characters I have come to expect from Banville, but as I traveled more and more deeply into the novel, I realized my fears had no basis
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when confronted with the power of his prose. Banville always provides an interesting plot, characters drawn in great and interesting detail, with lots of introspection – exactly the kind of novel I love.

Alexander Cleave has built a career as an acclaimed actor performing all over the world. One day, he steps onto the stage and goes “dry.” He can “see” his lines, yet he cannot utter a word. He skulks off the stage to a falling curtain and some cat calls from the audience. He retreats to his abandoned childhood home by the sea to escape his shame. As an actor, who has spent his life living an imaginary existence in the clothes and character of strangers, he has difficulty separating reality from fantasy. He lives mostly in the past.

Banville used the idea of a retreat in his Booker Prize novel. In The Sea, Max has lost his wife to divorce, and travels to his boyhood home to sort out the ruins of his marriage. Alex retreats to sort out the ruins of his career. Banville’s prose delves into all the minutiae of Alex’s life as well as his deep-seated psychological self-examination.

The use of detail can be overwhelming, but in order to travel through Alex’s life, it becomes necessary to an understanding of how he arrived at the house by the sea. Here is an example as Alex begins to unpack when he arrives at his retreat:

“Things to do, things to do. Store the kitchen supplies, set out my books, my framed photographs, my lucky rabbit’s paw. Too soon it was all done. There was no avoiding upstairs any longer. Grimly I mounted the steps as if I were climbing into the past itself, the years pressing down on me, like a heavier atmosphere. Here is the room looking out on the square that used to be mine. Alex’s room. Dust, and a mildew smell, and droppings on an inside sill where birds had got in through a broken windowpane. Strange, how places, once so intimate, can go neutral under the dust-fall of time. (17)

Whenever, I read Banville, I must have a dictionary close at hand. Every novel helps me add five or six words to my vocabulary. For example, in Eclipse I learned “anaglyptal,” “tannoys,” “verrucas,” “crepuscular,” “sizar,” and “leverets.” I will leave the adventure of a dictionary search to my faithful readers.

Banville writes, “It was that torpid hour of afternoon in summer when all falls silent and even the birds cease their twitterings. At such a time, in such a place, a man might lose his grip on all that he is” (76). Having spent many, many summer days by the ocean, I understand this sentiment entirely. Banville has heightened my desire to get back near the ocean, for night time walks on the beach and lazy fall and spring days reading under an umbrella with the soft breeze in my face. 5 stars

--Jim, 10/15/11
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LibraryThing member AnthonySchmitz
A bit like the Sandor Marai novel, Portraits of a Marriage, in which every page is beautifully written and insightful, and yet the book as a whole drags. I found myself longing for some action, some dialogue, and then felt like a lowbrow for insisting upon the conventions of normally engaging
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fiction in the face of so many lovely sentences.
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LibraryThing member WorldInColour
Procrastination of scholarly work made sure I had to read this book in a very short amount of time. Some nuances will probably be lost on me, but I think I got the gist of it. 'Eclipse' is written in a very lyrical style, resulting in some absolutely ridiculous sentences, but at the same time
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creating a rather speficic rhythm that serves the story quite nicely.

The story itself is about an actor called Alexander, a rather disjointed figure who has never actually managed to live in the real present day world. Symbolically, he abandons everything to live in the house where he was raised, a house that is somewhat haunted. One could argue the real ghosts are the living - they are the people who seem out of place in the novel. Identity is very problematic in this book. Every character is marked by a big empty void, a lack of motivation/inspiration/etc. Fascinating, but not really a book that will leave you smiling.

Which, of course, doesn't mean you should avoid this novel. It's quite well written and has some interesting ideas. Probably won't leave a lasting impression though.
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LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Beautifully written but I really didn't get it.


Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2002)



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