ebt1002 reviewed this|12 months ago
This is an exquisite little novel, chock full of elaborate phrasing and erudite vocabulary. The story, which moves fluidly between the present and several decades past, is an exploration of adolescence, death, grief, and memory -- all in under 200 pages. Banville's writing is beautiful without sinking into absurdity or pomposity. He walks the line, though: "The kettle came to the boil and switched itself off and the seething water inside it settled down grumpily."What Banville does better than any I can recall in recent memory is describe a setting such that it lives: "I had never liked, even feared a little, this wild reach of marsh and mud flats where everything seemed turned away from the land, looking off desperately toward the horizon as if in mute search for a sign of rescue."And his consideration of memory and human immortality: "Which is the more real, the woman reclining on the grassy bank of my recollections, or the strew of dust and dried marrow that is all the earth any longer retains of her? No doubt for others elsewhere she persists, a moving figure in the waxworks of memory, but their version will be different from mine, and from each other's. Thus in the minds of the many does the one ramify and disperse. It does not last, it cannot, it is not immortality. We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then it is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations. I remember Anna, our daughter Claire will remember Anna and remember me, then Claire will be gone and there will be those who remember her but not us, and that will be our final dissolution. True, there will be something of us that will remain, a fading photograph, a lock of hair, a few fingerprints, a sprinkling of atoms in the air of the room where we breathed our last, yet none of this will be us, what we are and were, but only the dust of the dead."There is also a reasonably good story imbedded in this novel, and Banville manages to keep the climax a secret longer than I thought he would. I was mildly disturbed by the matter-of-fact cruelty of the boy Max, especially toward animals, although these were but brief mentions that gave a sense of the coming-of-age of Max and his confusion, lust, shame, and longing. Near the end, I developed empathy and compassion for Max, as his grieving and vulnerable adult self searches for resolution and meaning. Maybe that is the way human development goes, yes? The cruel, but not mean, adolescent becomes a striving, lonely, and gentle adult. In any case, read this one not for its insight into the human experience. Insight and meaning are adequately present, but the reason to read this one is Banville's elegant writing.