by John Banville
by Julia Leigh
Faber and Faber, 170pp.
Both John Banvilles Eclipse and Julia Leighs The Hunter are deceptively slim yet powerfully sprung novels that have recently appeared from the U.K. While they take place worlds apart, there is an essential congruence in the unsettling nature of their central characters. Banville writes of his protagonist Cleave: "There is in me, deep down, as there must be in everyone at least, I hope there is, for I would not wish to be alone in this a part that does not care for anything other than itself."
Irish-born Banville has written a dozen books in the 30 years since Leigh was born in Australia. In Eclipse he packs the chaotic density of a mans life thrown out of its orbit into 200-odd pages. His fallen hero, a Hamlet who attacked the stage with a cold, brutal dominance, has disappeared to the stone village and dilapidated home of his childhood. Banville writes, "when I look back now to what I have left behind me I am afflicted by a disabling wonderment: how did I manage to accumulate so much of lifes clutter, apparently without effort, or even full consciousness? so much, that under the weight of it I cannot begin to locate that singular essential self." It is at this point, the location of the singular essential self, that both novels intersect. Banvilles Cleave, after half a lifetime on the London stage, is utterly lost unto himself, while in Leighs novel the nameless hunter, M, is unable to properly compass himself without his prey.
The Hunter is an account of a corporately funded mercenary and his pursuit of a mythic thylacine a Tasmanian Tiger. Leighs novel plays deftly with appearances and apparitions. In it, there is a subtle change that occurs at the rising of the land where town ends and wilderness begins. At the end of this road exists a small bluestone house where a housewife desperately mourns the disappearance of her husband. Their kids, tired with simply being Jamie and Katie, rename themselves Bike and Sass. Their lodger goes by the name Martin David and introduces himself as a university naturalist. But Leigh lets the reader know that M is something and someone else. It is the piercing solitude of M, and his singular compassion for the animal he is to hunt, that makes this book so memorable.
Both novels suggest a slowing down of time. Banville requires the reader to think like a man who has nothing to do, while Leighs hunter knows the spaciousness of stalking, waiting and watching. Each novel rewards the readers patience, but in unexpected ways.