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. However, I did enjoy the metaphors some of which I found quite funny. Overall I have given this 3 stars as I think Banville is a first class writer. I think though I have started with the wrong Banville book.