Ancient Light

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Ancient Light

by John Banville

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | July 2, 2013 | Trade Paperback

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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.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: July 2, 2013

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307946924

ISBN - 13: 9780307946928

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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– More About This Product –

Ancient Light

Ancient Light

by John Banville

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: July 2, 2013

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307946924

ISBN - 13: 9780307946928

Read from the Book

I Billy Gray was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother. Love may be too strong a word but I do not know a weaker one that will apply. All this happened half a century ago. I was fifteen and Mrs. Gray was thirty-five. Such things are easily said, since words themselves have no shame and are never surprised. She might be living still. She would be, what, eighty-three, eighty-four? That is not a great age, these days. What if I were to set off in search of her? That would be a quest. I should like to be in love again, I should like to fall in love again, just once more. We could take a course of monkey-gland injections, she and I, and be as we were fifty years ago, helpless in raptures. I wonder how things are with her, assuming she is still of this earth. She was so unhappy then, so unhappy, she must have been, despite her valiant and unfailing cheeriness, and I dearly hope she did not continue so.    What do I recall of her, here in these soft pale days at the lapsing of the year? Images from the far past crowd in my head and half the time I cannot tell whether they are memories or inventions. Not that there is much difference between the two, if indeed there is any difference at all. Some say that without realising it we make it all up as we go along, embroidering and embellishing, and I am inclined to credit it, for Madam Memory is a great and subtle dissembler. When I look back all is flux, without beginning and flowing towards no end, or none tha
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From the Publisher

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.

About the Author

John Banville, the author of fifteen previous novels, has been the recipient of the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Award, the Franz Kafka Prize and a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. He lives in Dublin.

Editorial Reviews

“A wise, sad and achingly gorgeous book.” — San Francisco Chronicle “Transcendent. . . . [Banville’s] prose . . . has a kind of luxuriant beauty, and, given the number of gorgeous arias written in different keys in many sharps and flats, the novel has a feel of a feverish atonal chamber opera. . . . One reads Ancient Light in a state of slightly stunned admiration.” —Charles Baxter, The New York Review of Books “A brilliant meditation on desire and loss.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune “An adolescent love story comparable with Turgenev’s great novella ‘First Love.’ Seamless, profound . . . it is an unsettling and beautiful work.” — The Wall Street Journal   “Flashes with comedy. . . . [Filled with] Banville’s brilliant prose.” — The Plain Dealer “The most striking thing about the book is the language. Line after line is stuffed with poetic effects.” — The New Yorker “[A] meditation of breath­taking beauty and profundity on love and loss and death, the final page of which brought tears. The Stockholm jury should pick up the phone now.” — The Financial Times “A luminous, breathtaking work. . . . Banville perfectly captures the spirit of adolescence, the body yearning for sexual experience, the mind blurring eroticism and emotion. . . . [He] is a Nabokovian artist, his prose so rich, poetic and packed with startlin
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Bookclub Guide

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.

1. What are the most distinctive features of John Banville's prose style? What accounts for its remarkable richness, lyricism, and subtlety of perception?

2. What is the effect of Ancient Light being told simultaneously from the points of view of the teenage Alex and the adult Alex? How does Alex's present affect his past? How does his past affect his present?

3. Alex frequently interrupts himself as he's telling his story by asking questions in asides, such as, "She was not a native of our town-have I said that?-and neither was her husband" (p. 66). What is the effect of this kind of self-reflexive, self-questioning narration? In what ways does it feel true to Alex's character?

4. At the opening of the book, Alex writes: "Images from the far past crowd in my head and half the time I cannot tell whether they are memories or inventions. Not that there is much difference between the two, if indeed there is any difference at all" (p. 3). How reliable is Alex as a narrator? His memory seems extraordinarily vivid and detailed, but how trustworthy is it? Is it possible to discern what he's remembering and what he's inventing or embellishing?

5. Why does Alex feel compelled now, fifty years after the fact, to write about his first love? What purpose does writing this story serve for him?

6. After Mrs. Gray flees, Alex feels abandoned and afraid. "This was grown-up territory, where I should not have to be. Who would rescue me, who would follow and find me and lead me back to be again among the scenes and the safety I had know before...?" (p. 264). Has Alex been victimized by Mrs. Gray, in spite of his more-than-enthusiastic involvement in their passionate affair? Has he been prematurely robbed of his innocence or given the gift of a great love?

7. Why does Alex take Dawn Devonport to Ligurian coastal town of Portovenere after her failed suicide attempt? What are his ostensible motives? What deeper reasons might be guiding him?

8. In playing the part of the Belgian literary critic Axel Vander, who lived most of his adult life under an assumed identity, Alex is pretending to be an impostor. What is the significance of this double impersonation?

9. Near the end of the novel, Alex says "People, real people, expect actors to be the characters they play. I am not Axel Vander, nor anything like him. Am I?" (p. 274). Is Alex anything like Axel, beyond their anagrammatic names? Why would he assert that he is not like Axel, and then immediately question that assertion?

10. How has their daughter Cass's suicide affected Alex and Lydia's marriage? Does Dawn Devonport serve as a kind of daughter-substitute for them?

11. Alex says that he was happy to listen to Mrs. Gray's ramblings, "or to pretend to, so long as she consented to lie in my embrace in the back seat of the station wagon or on the mattress in Cotter's place" (p. 144). Is he a narcissist or merely displaying the passionate impatience of youthful male lust? Could he have loved her less selfishly?

12. Why doesn't it occur to Alex that when Mrs. Gray wonders aloud what it might be like to not be here, and asks him if he ever thinks about death, she is tacitly referring to her own grave illness? Why does he immediately assume she's referring to her husband's impending death?

13. How does learning the fate of Mrs. Gray-the real reason she disappeared from Alex's life-change the way the novel should be read? How might Mrs. Gray's awareness of her illness help explain her affair with young Alex?

14.

Alex muses, "I used to think, long ago, that despite all the evidence I was the one in charge of my own life. . . . Now I realise that always I have been acted upon, by unacknowledged forces, hidden coercions" (p. 278). Why would he come to this conclusion? What are the "unacknowledged forces" and "hidden coercions" that have acted on him?



15. Why does Banville choose to end the novel with Alex remembering sleeping on the floor next to his mother's be, in the aftermath of the end of his affair with Mrs. Gray? What might be the "radiant being" he feels approaching the house just before he falls asleep?

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