What is a summary of Ancient Light by John Banville?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Banville's novel Ancient Light is the last in a non-chronological trilogy featuring the protagonist Alexander Cleave, a retired actor in his 60s. The story captures Alexander writing down his memoirs and is set 10 years after the suicide of his daughter Cass in the second book Eclipse. The third novel Ancient Light particularly features recollections of an affair he had as a teenager with Mrs. Gray, mother of his best friend Billy Gray, and switches back and forth between accounts of the affair and descriptions of his current state of grief over his daughter's death, a grief he shares with his wife Lydia.

During the story, he is asked to act the part of notorious fictional literary theorist Alex Vlander, who sounds very similar to Paul de Man, in a biographical film titled The Invention of the Past. Alex Vlander also happens to be the man Cass was with in Italy in Eclipse when she decided to commit suicide.

During filming, Alexander gets to know actress Dawn Devonport who plays the role of Alexander's daughter Cass in Italy. He develops an intricate relationship with Dawn that's a cross between an affair and a father-daughter bond that helps him overcome his grief over Cass. As he phrases it towards the end of the book, "Dawn Devonport by a negative magic has wrought permanent twilight to our home ... I find it a calmative" (p. 271).

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