The work of Irish novelist John Banville routinely inspires critical comparisons to Nabokov, Beckett, and Dostoyevsky, but his virtuoso writing never seems to garner the attention it deserves. Banville is often associated with thrillers and mysteries, but his highly intellectual novels are usually only tangentially related to crime fiction or suspense, cavorting through history or revisiting famous figures (from Copernicus to the devil himself) just as often as they set up and solve puzzles. A master of the interior dialogue, Banville usually concentrates more on characters and their existential crises than on plot, resulting in contemporary standouts such as The Book Of Evidence. Eclipse is, in fact, almost entirely an interior novel, which might strike some as claustrophobic, but the book's isolating prose hypnotically parallels the isolation of its protagonist. Alexander Cleave is a famous stage actor experiencing what appears to be a midlife crisis, if not an outright nervous breakdown. To overcome his neuroses, he retreats, sans wife and daughter, to his childhood home, a dilapidated de facto fortress of solitude, where he comes face to face with the ghosts (both literal and metaphoric) that have haunted him since his youth. Oddly enough, the phantoms he sees don't figure much in his daily life; their arrival is less a concern than a curiosity that spurs Cleave to a renewed interest in the world around him. When Cleave is alone, Banville's prose glides and leaps like good poetry, but the book tends to be less interesting when Cleave interacts with corporeal beings like his affable caretaker Quirke and Quirke's daughter Lily. But this interaction is vital to Banville's story, since Cleave's self-imposed exile plays in part like a strategy to expunge the fantastical, false world of the stage in favor of the meat-and-potatoes reality of everyday life. In fact, Banville immerses readers so thoroughly in the strange realm between the physical and mental, the psychological and the sensual, that the book's finale comes as a surprise. Cathartically bursting the surreal bubble Banville has spent 200 pages inflating, it gives off a devastating "pop" that should send most readers back through the book, searching for answers that Banville doesn't always provide.

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