Ghosts (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Is it that Anthony Hopkins has become so powerful and pervasive an icon of contemporary culture that it is no longer possible to see the world that stretches from The Silence of the Lambs (1991) through Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993) to Shadowlands (1993) except through his, which is to say his characters’, eyes? Or is it, rather, that the repression for which Hopkins is surely cinema’s modern master has become so pronounced an element of postmodern culture, the flip side as it were of late capitalism and carnival excess, the “haunted ashen look” on the faces of the characters in Don DeLillo’s paradigmatic postmodern fictions? Whatever the answer, Ghosts, Irish writer John Banville’s ninth novel, is surely a work with a role or two for Hopkins, though the repression here is just as certainly of a different order, less a mask for the psychologically perverse than an occasion for the stylistically and intertextually dazzling. No less intricate in design than intriguing in its “coagulating” plot, and no less lyrical in its language than ludic in its structure, Ghosts is a work not of supernatural chills but instead of comic terror, at once painterly, theatrical, dreamlike, learned, and mad (the madness not of Edgar Allan Poe but of Vincent Price playing Poe). Its subject-to the degree that it has one-is the relation-ship between the real and the imagined, the old art-versus-life...
(The entire section is 2002 words.)
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Ghosts (Magill Book Reviews)
A drunken captain sails his pleasure craft onto a sandbank, leaving his seven passengers stranded on an island off the Irish coast. There, until the tide rises, they remain, the guests (so to speak) of the enigmatic Professor Silas Kreutznaer (an art expert), his typist and seeming servant, the strangely named Licht, and the even more strangely unnamed narrator, an ex-convict presently engaged in ghost-writing the professor’s study of an eighteenth century Dutch painter whose name may or may not be Vaublin and with whom one of the castaways, Felix, has some unexplained connection. However, these and other similar mysteries, loosely psychological in nature, coexist rather uneasily with other, far more literary ones. If the castaways are in a sense of “real,” assuming a certain suspension of disbelief, then how is it that they seem to have stepped not so much off a stranded boat than out of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST and Daniel Defoe’s ROBINSON CRUSOE, to mention just two of the novel’s many intertextual “clues”?
The narrator too seems to have stepped out of another literary work, in this case Banville’s own novel, THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, where it was his love of a painting that led him to murder and now to the professor and thus to Vaublin, whose “masterpiece” (though it may be a fake), LE MONDE D’OR, bears a strange resemblance to the characters and action of the larger novel. Dizzying in its plot, teasing in its implications, GHOSTS...
(The entire section is 356 words.)