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Ancient Light Paperback – 28 Mar 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (28 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241955408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241955406
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 36,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

Product Description


Glittering visual evocation, expressed in a tone at once fresh and wistfully ironic ... a world at once random, dreamlike and deeply experienced (The Sunday Times)

4 STARS. Banville proves here over and over that one can write with the true texture if erotic memory without resorting to titillation. He deserves to outsell Fifty Shades of Grey tenfold. (Sunday Express)

4 STARS. Prose that lingers on every last physical and psychological detail. (Metro)

Banville does regretful roues better than almost anyone ... His use of language can also be startlingly brilliant ... Terrific ... full of sadness and yearning. (Sunday Telegraph)

This dazzling novel captures a long-lost adolescent world of passion and desire. (Independent)

... ravishingly written and scrupulously observed (Irish Times)

The Booker prize winning author - widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in English today - has produced what many already consider a literary masterpiece. (Sunday Independent)

We now want them [novels] to provoke, cajole, edify, entertain, puzzle, divert, clarify and console. Banville's new novel does all these things and much more besides. (Irish Independent)

Banville, with his forensic sensory memory, his great gift for textural (and textual) precision, his ability to inhabit not just a room, as a writer, but also the full weight of a breathing body, is exactly in his element here. (Observer)

A novel criss-crossed with ghost roads and dead-ends and peopled by shifty characters who seem provisional even to themselves. It is written in Baville's customary prose, rhythmic and allusive and dense with suggestive imagery, prose and deliberately slows you down and frequently wrongfoots you. (Guardian)

A bittersweet rumination on first love ... The language soars, full of the beauty of nature and the sadness of loss (Marie Claire)

Banville perfectly captures the spirit of adolescence, the body yearning for sexual experience, the mind blurring eroticism and emotion ... Banville is a Nabokovian artist, his prose so rich, poetic and packed with startling imagery that reading it is akin to gliding regally through a lake of praline: it's a slow, stately process, delicious and to be savoured ... This is a luminous breathtaking work (Independent on Sunday)

Ancient Light also bears resemblance to Lolita that extend beyond the obvious hallmark ecstatic prose..different periods of his life blending into a single meditation of breathtaking beauty and profundity on love and loss and death, the final page of which brought tears. (The Financial Times)

A beautifully written tale of youthful passion (Good Housekeeping)

A novel about sexual awakening and the tricks that memory plays. Banville's lushly gorgeous prose enhances a mood of brooding passion in a place of secrets (The I)

A sumptuous novel. Read it for the sentences and smarts, and for the copious sexy parts (Richard Ford Guardian, Books of the Year)

Everything I want from a love story: sexy, convincing, baffling, funny, sad and unforgettable (Juliet Nicholson Evening Standard, "Books of the Year")

Banville's exquisitely written novel unravels the deceptions of memory with wit and pathos (Telegraph)

About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fourteen previous novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He was recently awarded the Franz Kafka Prize. He lives in Dublin.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Sid Nuncius HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on 29 April 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Whether or not you like this book will depend on your response to Banville's style. The story is slow and contemplative; narrated by an ageing actor, it tells the story of his first sexual awakening in an affair with the mother of his best friend, the suicide of his daughter ten years ago and his current involvement in shooting a film. He often addresses the reader directly, describes things in unusual detail and digresses from the tale into odd preoccupations and observations. The book is about the nature of memory as much as anything - how we remember, misremember and unknowingly invent - and I think Banville does this brilliantly. He describes very believably how memories seem to work, realising for example that he remembers autumn leaves lying when the event must have taken place in April, or forgetting the content of a really important conversation but remembering small details about where it took place. He conjures astonishingly vivid scenes from minutiae like the smell of a stone wall by a road or the wafting of steam from a kettle, and comes up with some wonderful descriptions like the woman who "really is of the most remarkable shape, and might have been assembled from a collection of cardboard boxes of varying sizes that were first left out in the rain and then piled soggily any old way one on top of another."

It will probably be clear early on whether you are going to enjoy the book. The second paragraph of the book begins, "What do I recall of her, here in these soft pale days at the lapsing of the year?" and a few pages later, "...I would lie with my cheek resting on her midriff...and in my ear the pings and plonks of her innards at their ceaseless work of transubstantiation.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Susie B TOP 50 REVIEWER on 1 July 2012
Format: Hardcover
"Images from the past crowd in my head and half the time I cannot tell whether they are memories or inventions... Madame Memory is a great and subtle dissembler".

Alex Cleave, a semi-retired stage actor in his sixties, sits in his attic room musing on a past love affair which took place in the 1950s, when he was fifteen and fell in love with a woman twenty years his senior, called Celia Gray, the mother of his best friend, Billy. Almost without dialogue, this story is first person narrated by Alex and, as he sifts through his memories, we learn about his past life - but only what he wishes to reveal for, as Alex tells us, we are being told the items of flotsam that he chooses to salvage from the general wreckage. While Alex muses on his past, his wife, Lydia, grief-stricken after the loss of their only child, Cass, who died ten years previously, suffers nocturnal bouts of mania where she leaves her bed and sleepwalks through their home, desperately seeking and calling out for her daughter. Alex suffering from his own grief, finds himself always in the position of trying to comfort Lydia and, after yet another sleepless night, as they sit on the stairs and around them "the hall furniture stands dimly in the gloom like shocked and speechless attendants", Alex wonders about the nature of grief and whether there is such a thing as the mortal soul. And as Alex tries to cope with caring for Lydia and mourning the loss of his daughter, he takes refuge by revisiting moments from his past.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By D Webster VINE VOICE on 9 Jun 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On reading Ancient Light, I felt that I'd read it before. Perhaps this is because, subject-matter wise, it is reminiscent to me of 'Notes on a Scandal' or 'Lolita'. In contrast, however, Ancient Light is more ponderous and knowing, more poetic, elegaic and tired and also verbally obscurantist. A lot of reviewers reached for their dictionary on reading some of these out-of-common-use words though I must admit I didn't- frankly, because I was not interested enough. This may be because I find the subject of a 15 year old and 35 year old friend's mum in sexual union uncomfortable to read about. I just couldn't get over a slightly yuk! 'I don't want to read about this' feeling.

Perhaps my deja-vu was about the instability of memory and identity that is the real subject of this novel. Having examined some of my own early memories there were some clashes with my siblings. For example, I thought I put out the fire in my mum's hair over the alight christmas pudding, but my sister tells me she did. I even remember batting mum's head with a tea-towel repeatedly - a very physical memory which includes the smell of burnt hair - though I cannot put money on this memory as my sister swears it is hers. Memory is creatively selective and connective as Banville shows very well.

Memories are examined from every angle and this makes for a frequently painstainkingly slow pace. It is narrated by Alexander Cleave, retired actor, with an almost scientific approach to memory and grief that made me feel quite sleepy. To me reading Ancient Light was like listening to a verbose and circuitous talker, and trying to pay close attention.

The style of writing is too clever and too arch for my personal liking and the subject matter as I have said wasn't really my cup of tea.
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