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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Only a writer as lyrically gifted as John Banville could craft a novel like Eclipse, a story about the haunted inner landscape of a desperate man. As the book opens, Alex, its 50-year-old narrator, haltingly realizes that, at "the site of what was supposed to be myself was only a vacancy, an ecstatic hollow." Eclipse tells the story of Alex's self-diagnosis and subsequent endeavor to transcend his perceived fatal flaw -- and by grace of Banville's exquisite language, we hang on every word.
Structured like a five-act tragedy, Eclipse elegantly plumbs the core of Alex's predicament. Formerly a famous stage actor, he has dried up and can no longer perform. Seeking to salve his nagging malaise, he returns to his childhood home, a run-down cottage near the coastline somewhere in Europe, empty since his mother's death. There, amid the detritus of his past, Alex thinks he sees ghosts. As it turns out, they are merely the caretaker, who has moved himself and his 15-year-old daughter into the cottage. Although he is married and has a daughter of his own, Alex befriends the two, and they become a surrogate family.
Despite the unexpected company, Alex's melancholy eclipses his excitement over the new people in his life. In a long chapter about his career onstage, he details the Faustian bargain he made with his inner self. Despite his stable domestic life and many successful performances, it was "all a lie," Alex reflects, "all a part I was playing, and playing badly, at that." His wife, baffled by his sudden odd state of mind, treks out to the village to find him bearded and haggard, dwelling in his family home with two strangers, rather than worrying about their daughter, who has mysteriously disappeared. Alex is poignantly aware of his betrayal. "And now I had done the worst of all," he laments in self-pity, "I had walked out of the production, leaving the rest of the cast to deal with the cat calls of the audience."
Banville shifts deftly from Alex's lugubrious present-tense reality to the shimmering memories of his past, revealing how he must shed the masks he's worn if he is to ever fully inhabit his life. A family is not like a house, Banville suggests, a structure one can reclaim after it's been abandoned. As Eclipse moves swiftly toward its heartbreaking climax, this is a lesson Alex will learn at a deep and dear price. (John Freeman)