The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea gives us a brilliant novel about an actor in the twilight of his life and his career: “a devastating account of a boy’s sexual awakening and the loss of his childhood…. Seamless [and] profound ... An unsettling and beautiful work.” —Wall Street Journal
Is there a difference between memory and invention? That is the question that haunts Alexander Cleave as he reflects on his first, and perhaps only, love—an underage affair with his best friend’s mother. When his stunted acting career is suddenly, inexplicably revived with a movie role playing a man who may not be who he claims, his young leading lady—famous and fragile—unwittingly gives him the opportunity to see, with startling clarity, the gap between the things he has done and the way he recalls them. Profoundly moving, Ancient Light is written with the depth of character, clarifying lyricism, and heart-wrenching humor that mark all of Man Booker Prize-winning author John Banville’s extraordinary works.
In Man Booker Prize-winner Banville's 16th novel, the Irish author reprises the character of Alex Cleave, who first appeared in 2000's Eclipse, and then two years later in Shroud. Cleave, a has-been theater actor, reminisces about his 15th summer, "half a century ago," when he had an affair with his best friend's mother, Mrs. Gray, who, he tells us, was "unhappy then," lest readers judge her too harshly for bedding a minor. Interwoven with this vividly drawn summer is Cleave's current existence, which is saturated with pain and regret: His daughter, Cass, flung herself off the Italian coast 10 years ago, and his wife, Lydia, still sleepwalks in the night to rampage through the house in search of her. When, out of the blue, Cleave is offered a role in a biopic of literary critic Axel Vander entitled The Invention of the Past, life and art intertwine beguilingly for Alex, who is engaged in the tricky business of inventing his own past; how is he to unravel the strands of his existence when memory is such an unreliable muse? The problem with this book is that the past is beautifully perfectly imagined; it's Alex's over-determined present that's unbelievable. First printing: 60,000.