John Banville novel plots the need to poeticize memory

By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Booker-prize-winning author JohnBanville explores the nature of memory or, as he would prefer tocall it, imagination in his latest book.

In an interview the Irish novelist said he intends for"Ancient Light" to stand alone, but those who have read hisprevious novels will recognize the character of Alex Cleave from"Eclipse" and "Shroud," which explored other facets of his life.

This time out, Cleve, now a washed-up actor in his sixties,relives the affair he had with a friend's mother at age 15 intheir small Irish town.

Cleave's present life finds him developing a bond with atroubled young actress that drives him toward making peace withhis daughter's suicide, but his vivid recollection of hisillicit first love is the larger plot.

The novel, recently published in the United States, wasdescribed as "an unsettling and beautiful work" by the WallStreet Journal. The Daily Beast likened its sensuously detailedrecollections to the work of Proust.

As Cleave richly narrates his adolescent erotic awakening bythe 35-year-old Mrs. Gray, hesitations about the accuracy ofthose memories and their missing fragments interrupt.

Banville, 66, said he wanted to write in a way that mirrorsthe way memory works.

"I think that we don't remember, I think that we invent," hesaid. "I think that imagination is a more accurate word for whatwe do than memory."

Cleave describes the colored leaves of autumn only to reasonthat the incident he is recounting couldn't have taken placethen. He recalls the scratchiness of the suit he wore whilesitting on Mrs. Gray's sofa on a late summer Sunday, but notwhat brought him there.

Banville said memories allow for "a more poetic perspectiveon the world," whether what is remembered is accurate or not,and serve as an anchor.

"The past seems the thing on which we rest our sense ofourselves and our sense of the world," he said. "We don'texperience the future until it arrives. All we have is thepast."

He cited this as the reason people focus on the past.

"We fixate on it because it seems so much more vivid thanthe present," he said. "A few years on, suddenly the most banalexperiences take on this extraordinary glow."

Though Cleave's past losses - of Mrs. Gray, of his daughter,of his own full memory of his experiences - loom large, the toneof "Ancient Light" is neither somber nor regretful.

"We're constantly losing - we're losing time, we're losingourselves," he said. "I don't feel for the things I lost. I lovethe notion that there's all this stuff piled up behind me, andthe pile keeps getting bigger and bigger."

(Editing by Christine Kearney and Prudence Crowther)