Eclipse by John Banville (Picador, £6.99 in UK)


The premise of this slim novel is startlingly simple: Alexander Cleave, actor - yes, as he would say himself, that Alex Cleave - has returned to his childhood home, a stern and somewhat musty house deep in the countryside. Why? He doesn't know. Nor does his wife, Lydia, left baffled and irritated at home. Nor, of course, does the reader, reliant on Cleave's undoubtedly unreliable narration. A man alone in a house, then? But Cleave is not alone. He is convinced that he has been summoned to the house; and he has scarcely moved in before he starts seeing ghosts. Are they visions from his past, dreams about his difficult, disturbed daughter Cass, now a scholar somewhere in Europe? Or are they - even more unbelievable - real people? Banville's abilities as a wordsmith have always been highly praised, and Eclipse is a stunning demonstration of his ability to create an elaborately beautiful artefact using the clumsy tools of letters and grammar. But this novel is also a deeply-felt and desperately moving meditation on love, parenthood and what makes us human.