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Ghosts In this brilliantly haunting new novel, John Banville forges an unforgettable amalgam of enchantment and menace that suggests both The Tempest and his own acclaimed The Book of Evidence A surreal and exquisitely lyrical new novel by one of the great stylists writing in English today Boston Globe The past was gathering eventhickly around me, I waded through it numbly like a greased swimmer, waiting to feel the chill and the treacherous undertow It was not supposed to be like this I would have never expected that I would have to struggle to get through a John Banville s book Yet I did It took me three weeks to read Ghosts 1993 and the first hundred pages were the most difficult Despite Banville s trademarks, extraordinarily accomplished prose and the underlying wisdom shinin The past was gathering eventhickly around me, I waded through it numbly like a greased swimmer, waiting to feel the chill and the treacherous undertow It was not supposed to be like this I would have never expected that I would have to struggle to get through a John Banville s book Yet I did It took me three weeks to read Ghosts 1993 and the first hundred pages were the most difficult Despite Banville s trademarks, extraordinarily accomplished prose and the underlying wisdom shining through page after page, I could not connect with the text I did not understand the events and the characters sounded artificial to me, like empty templates, promises of something that might possibly come in the future For instance, Alice and Flora what are they about Why should I care about seven castaways from a ship grounded on a coast of an island Or about their intersecting the lives of Professor Kreutznaer and his faithful companion Licht Later, things began making a littlesense A connection to Banville s The Book of Evidence is revealed The motif of a fictitious French painter, Vaublin, and his Le monde d or emerges There areextraordinary passages of prose like The world was luminous around him Everything shone out of itself, shaking in its own radiance There was movement everywhere even the most solid objects seemed to seethe, the table under his hands, the chair on which he sat, the very walls themselves And he too trembled, as if his whole frame had been struck like a tuning fork against the hard, bright surface of things or And somehow by being suddenly herself like this she made the things around her be there too In her, and in what she spoke, the world, the little world in which we sat, found its grounding and was realized It was as if she had dropped a condensed drop of colour into the water of the world and the colour had spread and the outlines of things had sprung into bright relief The thread of travel with Billy, first to the narrator s house, then to the ship, and eventually to the island will captivate the reader s attention As will the cool story about a mayor of a Spanish village sitting for a painting.Naturally, I don t regret that I persevered and finished the novel While I am probably too obtuse to fully comprehend its meaning, I suspect that the author gives the reader a hint in the following passage I would look out the window and see that little band of castaways toiling up the road to the house and a door would open into another world Oh, a little door, hardly enough for me to squeeze through, but a door, all the same The charming story of the narrator s relationship with Mrs Vanden reminds me of Cees Nooteboom, to me the best writer of literature for adults Still, the beauty of prose remains the best aspect of Ghosts Mr Banville makes a worthy companion to James Joyce, Patrick White, or Vladimir Nabokov among the most accomplished masters of the English language I still have a lotBanville to read.Three stars Cosmic IntersectionsThe world isn t what goes around inside our heads, but what our heads go around inside Context is contents And I don t mean air, sights, and smells as context I mean other heads It is these other heads that supply us with language, opinion, and prejudice, lots of prejudice, which are the elements of the world we inhabit These other heads are even embedded in the things that surround us like in a simple cup of teaLives, other lives a myriad of them, distilled into t Cosmic IntersectionsThe world isn t what goes around inside our heads, but what our heads go around inside Context is contents And I don t mean air, sights, and smells as context I mean other heads It is these other heads that supply us with language, opinion, and prejudice, lots of prejudice, which are the elements of the world we inhabit These other heads are even embedded in the things that surround us like in a simple cup of teaLives, other lives a myriad of them, distilled into this thimbleful of perfumed pleasure Trying to clarify what goes on inside our heads by isolating ourselves on a small, sparsely populated Irish island for example is, therefore, not an inherently irrational therapeutic idea in principle We then only have to cope mostly with memories supplied of course by others , and dreams of other heads in other places But what happens whennew heads, or even an old one, start invading And what happens to the invaders headsHere is the moment where worlds collide Worlds within worlds They bleed into each otherHanging around crazy people will make you crazy.But here s the thing it s not possible to sort our own head without another one to help, who nonetheless is unwelcome because annoying, and possibly crazy We need another head to be inserted into our own to remember our crimes orgenerally to interrupt our thinking lest we enter an endless loop of memories, dreams, and regrets When these helpful others are absent or when they die, it s not enough to live on mere memories These heads become ghosts part of ourselves, yet also independentI am certain there is no other form of afterlife for them than this, that they should live in us, and through us It is our duty Ghosts have a clear function The law calls this function restitution psychiatric medicine calls it integration art crticism, verification They amount to the sane thing sorting the contents of one s head, that is to say the context of one s head Never an easy job rarely a faultless one But when they do their job, ghosts have a dramatic effect They make it clearthat something had happened, that something had shifted, that things would never be again as they had been beforeThis is about as close to solving the various mysteries Banville presents as one is likely to achieve.And, as usual, Banville also presents the reader with his unique taste in vocabulary Borborygmic, oneiric, brumous, mephitic, eructations, benison, plumbeous, tombal, balneation are new to me But these are mysteries which are easier to resolve Everything in this world resembles something else so Ghosts vaguely echoesThe Tempestby William Shakespeare And the island is something between Aeaea Circe s home isle, and the Land of Nod the place of Cain s exile.Extraordinary the look of things at dusk then, it might have been another planet, with that pale vault of sky, those crouched and hesitant, dreamy distances I wandered about the house, going softly through the stillness and shadows, and sometimes I would lose myself, I mea Everything in this world resembles something else so Ghosts vaguely echoesThe Tempestby William Shakespeare And the island is something between Aeaea Circe s home isle, and the Land of Nod the place of Cain s exile.Extraordinary the look of things at dusk then, it might have been another planet, with that pale vault of sky, those crouched and hesitant, dreamy distances I wandered about the house, going softly through the stillness and shadows, and sometimes I would lose myself, I mean I would flow out of myself somehow and be as a phantom, a patch of moving dark against the lighter darkness all around me.Those shipwrecked are personages descended from Harlequin and Columbine the painting by Jean Antoine Watteau the disagreeable characters with their disagreeable past, except the children, of course, the children are bound for their disagreeable future Professor Silas Kreutznaer is a kind of Prospero and Freddie Montgomery is a sort of Caliban.This lovely world, and we the only blot on the landscape We, or just me Sometimes I think I can feel the world recoiling from me, as if from the touch of some uncanny, cold and sticky thing.The ghosts of his past are still tormenting Freddie and he still keeps wondering how he could fall so low and turn into such a beast What statue of myself did I erect long ago, I wonder Must have been a gargoyle Diderot developed a theory of ethics based on the idea of the statue if we would be good, he said, we must become sculptors of the self Virtue is not natural to us we achieve it, if at all, through a kind of artistic striving, cutting and shaping the material of which we are made, the intransigent stone of selfhood, and erecting an idealised effigy of ourselves in our own minds and in the minds of those around us and living as best we can according to its sublime example.When we all learn to sculpt our own virtues then, at last, we ll become true human beings here is the thing about banville about the perfection of his prose you can be 38 pages into this book and read I too was eager already for change, for disorder, for the mess and confusion that people make of thingsCompany, that was what we wanted, the brute warmth of the presence of others to tell us we were alive after all, despite appearances and you will close the book and run your hand over the cover and stare off into the distance at a tree the way the light hits it in a square, ill here is the thing about banville about the perfection of his prose you can be 38 pages into this book and read I too was eager already for change, for disorder, for the mess and confusion that people make of thingsCompany, that was what we wanted, the brute warmth of the presence of others to tell us we were alive after all, despite appearances and you will close the book and run your hand over the cover and stare off into the distance at a tree the way the light hits it in a square, illuminating it there you will be reminded of your mother, one thousand miles away, on a couch drifting in and out of sleep after chemotherapy you will be remembering her at niagara falls and how she lifted you up on the railing to get a better view when you were four and one thousand miles away, you will see that great cataract, butimportantly, you will see the rail and feel her hands on you, holding you secure it s the railing the railing that was put there one hundred years ago by some lost hand and the connotations of that railing not the falls but your mother holding you and though you never saw her face, looking intently instead at the rush of water, know that she was smiling at your blonde hair and feeling your chest rise and fall with the wonder of it all

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