What drew my attention to Banville recently was a long review in the New Yorker. I’m wondering if others read reviews the way I do. If after a few paragraphs, I begin to decide I probably won’t read the book, I’ll slow down and read the review quite carefully, which earns me the modest satisfaction of having dipped into the main themes and maybe learned something along the way about the subject. If on the other hand I decide I want more than a dip and think I may read the book, my eyes will begin to gloss over, and I’ll begin to skim, especially where plot is revealed, which explains why I don’t delve into summaries of the books I review, which maybe makes them not so much reviews as reactions? Call them what you like.
I’m especially reluctant to reveal even the barest of plot details about Ancient Light because I know I won’t do the book justice. Besides, the plot may scare some readers off, which would be a shame. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this is one of the best books of the year. Open the novel to any page and you will be awed by the precision of the description, which always serves to richly complement the narrator’s interior world. Not everyone agrees, as I found out through a quick search. Some think he’s merely showing off, that the language he employs is unnecessarily flowery or archaic or dense or whatever. In a lesser writer, this probably would be true, like a 98-pound weakling flexing his bony arms. But Banville has the muscle and heft to achieve what he sets out to achieve, which is substantial.
When you read something this well crafted, the sentences draw you into a sort of dream state, which may not be saying much in my case since I’m there often. And an illusion persists: that the writing is effortless. So I was gratified to learn that Banville spends many hours at his desk that looks out on nothing worth noting, and that 200 words is a good day for him. You sense this dedication and discipline on every page of this fine, fine book.