This is a beautiful novel of love and loss. The narrator, Max, has just lost his wife of many years and goes to stay in a seaside house that he visited as a child. There he travels back and forth between musing about his relationship with his wife, particularly after her cancer diagnosis, and recalling the summer he spent with the family who lived in this house, a summer when he began the transition from childhood to manhood.
The language is strong and full of images. Max writes about the artist Bonnard, and midway through the book, I had to search for images of Bonnard's works online because I felt that having the images in my mind would help me imagine the world through Max's eyes more clearly. But truly Banville paints carefully with his words as he crafts this tale and even without a trip into art history, it is a very beautiful read. Banville captures images of his characters, complete with light reflecting off a sleeve, or a piece of flesh casually bared, that are very like the portraiture his character describes. The relationships in the novel are carefully observed and unflinchingly drawn. These are not sentimental memories, but complicated ones, full of desire, discovery, and disillusionment, an honest range of human experience. Max ponders his relationships not only with other people in his life, but also with his profession, with social class, and ultimately with himself.