Colin Burrow writes:
There’s a revealing slip near the start of John Banville’s new novel. Ursula Godley, whose husband lies dying upstairs, reflects on her son and daughter: ‘These are the creatures she carried inside her and gave birth to and fed from her own breast, phoenix-like.’ A phoenix can never feed its young because there is only ever one of it at a time. It immolates itself in order to generate itself anew. It’s pelicans that are supposed to feed their children, and even revive them from death, by pecking at their own breasts, which is why they were often treated in the Middle Ages as an image of Christ’s charity.