Banville readers have met Alexander Cleave before, in the novel Eclipse. This time, the stage actor is invited to star in a movie. He is somewhat puzzled at being chosen but takes the role, playing a man who was in Portovenere at the time his pregnant daughter killed herself there. Could they have known one another? (If you've read another Banville novel, Shroud, you already know the answer.)
The past is what Alexander Cleave is about, starting with a nostalgic reminiscence of an adolescent love affair with the mother of his best friend. She is more than twice his age and, as might be imagined, their time together is one of lust unalloyed. In recalling past events, he has a hard time remembering significant details, yet Banville's genius for description puts the reader in the picture completely. Banville has said elsewhere it is impossible to write about sex, so he doesn't. Instead, he shows us everything else: the landscape, the color of Mrs. Gray's dress, the texture of her skin, the apprehension and anticipation of their time together--and the inevitable end of the affair, which isn't exactly as Cleave thinks it was.
Meanwhile, after Cleave's co-star attempts suicide, he takes her to Portovenere, an act that leads him to revisit the anguish over his daughter's suicide. In his heart of hearts, Cleave knows he cannot bring his daughter back, but is still compelled to search for some ancient light that might illuminate his past. Banville, an exquisite prose stylist, takes the reader along. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.