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The Infinities [Unabridged] [Paperback]

John Banville
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Mar 2010

‘This is unequivocally a work of brilliance.’ Justin Cartwright, Spectator

Old Adam Godley’s time on earth is drawing to an end, and as his wife and children gather at the family home, little do they realize that they are not the only ones who have come to observe the spectacle.

The mischievous Greek gods, too, have come; as tensions fray and desire bubbles over, their spying soon becomes intrusion becomes intervention, until the mortals’ lives – right before their eyes – seem to be changing faster than they can cope with.

Overflowing with bawdy humour, Banville has allowed his twinkling eye to rove through memories of the past and relationships of the present in this moving family drama. The Infinities is both a salacious delight and a penetrating exploration of the terrifying, wonderful, immutable plight of being human.

‘A poetic vision of boundless possibility.’ Literary Review

‘Full of dark humour and written with a deft eye for detail.’ GQ

‘This darkly comic and fearsomely clever creation is a heady delight’ Metro

‘Written in such saturatedly beautiful, luminous prose that every page delights, startles and uplifts.’ The Times

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Product details

  • Paperback: 299 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Unabridged edition (5 Mar 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0330450255
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330450256
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

Product Description


`There is no end of irony and sophistication and brilliance, and no end of a sense that an infinity of different egos lie out there beyond our grasp . . . The Infinities, one of Banville's most ambitious books, is recognisably both a summa of his earlier interests and a departure . . . [It] presents myths aplenty and layers of literary allusion . . . The descriptions of [Rex, the elderly black Labrador] are full of doggy vividness.'
--London Review of Books

'Superb writing scattered through out the book.'
--Sunday Times

'The plot is fairly abstruse, but it's Banville's luminous prose that matters.' --Guardian

'Set, ambitiously and frivolously, within a parallel universe . . . Banville's descriptive talents and narrative confidence get things moving.' --Sunday Telegraph

'Written with fierce, mischievous intelligence.' --Metro

'In my humble opinion, this novel is a hoot. It is filthy, bawdy and rollicking . . .And as for the acerbic reviews and the accusations of pretentiousness and pomposity? Well, I did my professional best to identify an oppressively overwrought passage, but instead found the writing to be only gorgeous. There's hardly a boring sentence and it's as close to poetry as most prose writers get . . . Barking mad. I loved it.'
--Belfast Telegraph

'All of Banville's hallmarks are here - writing of great exactitude, a fluid narrative, a sly and arch humour . . . those who like their literature intellectual and knowing will enjoy it'
--Sunday Business Post


'The turning of an omniscient, omnipotent narrator into a god has...been fulfilled so well.'
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very, very strange book 24 Aug 2009
By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have read almost all of John Banville's work, going back to Kepler in 1990, so I thought I knew him as a novelist, but this is a very strange new book indeed. Narrated by the god Hermes, "The Infinities" concerns a house in Ireland where the mathematician Adam Godley lies dying. So far so good - a family with tensions and dramas, much like those in The Sea, with that weird divine twist on the story-telling.

But almost nothing in this book is as it seems. This is not our own universe - it is one where hydrogen fusion powers everything, where Goethe is a footnote in history, and where Wallace, not Darwin, is the discoverer of the theory of evolution. The gods continually intervene in the action, which is sometimes frustrating: just as you begin to get into the narrative, Hermes buts in yet again, leaving me sometimes wanting to yell at him 'shut up'. Then the dying man himself begins contributing to the narrative from his coma, and then the reader is left to doubt whether the 'gods' are actually a figment of his fraying imagination. It is utterly disconcerting and doesn't make for a comfortable read.

This is a highly experimental narrative and I can imagine many readers getting halfway through and just giving up in disgust! The ending is also extremely strange... and yet all the way through the writing is of such a quality - beautiful passages of description, moments of great insight into human nature, and I can imagine vividly the characters I've just spent two days reading about. Not one for the tube though. A really, really odd book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He does it with mirrors 29 Nov 2009
This is one of the most fascinating - and disconcerting - books I have read in a long time. Nothing is what it seems in this story of one day in the life of a disfunctional family somewhere in Ireland - or is it Mount Olympus? Banville seems to do it with mirrors. Is the dying man really Adam Godley, the famous mathmatician, or is he someone totally other? And Ursula, his devoted wife, is not all she seems either. Although it deals with profound questions of life and death, love and pain, there is a sense of fun throughout that is perhaps caused by Mercury, that lightning-swift god who is present throughout. But where is he exactly? Now you see him, now you don't. Banville seems to delight in leading his readers up the many garden paths of this house, Arden, where his story is played out. It is many years since I have derived such huge enjoyment and such constant sense of surprise from any book. Reader, read it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lucky human 30 Dec 2009
You lucky human to have this book yet to read! It's a treat, a mature author confidently, proudly and exceedingly elegantly offers us this small perfect gem of a book. Suffused with love and curiosity, wisdom and humour, it's one I'll have to own ( obtained my copy from the library). I can think of no adverse comments to make at all, unless it be that I needed the dictionary very often, and that some words weren't even in it! Lovely words though which I'll hope to remember. Bon voyage.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book will divide opinion 24 Aug 2009
By Max
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Infinities is a satirical, philosophical and very clever book. It was well worth the time to read, but I can't help thinking it's missing something. And I suspect that it will strongly divide opinion - you may read it and think it is a masterpiece, but you may well read it and be left cold.

Let me try to explain.

Firstly, the book has several passages which deal with some of the deepest human and metaphysical questions: what is it to be alive or dead? What is love? What is the nature of reality?

With a philosophy background I hugely enjoyed these bits - for example early on in the book one of the main characters asks "How can he be a self and others others since the others too are selves, to themselves?" Good stuff.

Secondly, one of the narrators is the mythical god Hermes. In my opinion Banville executes this narration perfectly, and the passages where Hermes describes humanity from the perspective of a mischievous and ever-so-slightly envious deity are just brilliant. The author brings remarkable insight into the plight of us mere mortals, and it is a delight to read.

For me, these two aspects of the book are enough to make it well worth the read. And I would imagine that some readers will fall in love with the descriptive passages in the book - giving it five stars and calling it a masterpiece.

Yet while it's a collection of impressive insights and clever literary devices, somehow the sum seems less than the parts. It didn't help that the characters failed to excite me much. This is why I couldn't give it five stars, much as I think the book probably deserves them.

I haven't read
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange but beautiful.... 27 Aug 2009
By Love Books VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've just finished this book and am feeling exhilerated. I can think of no other author who writes descriptions as wonderfully as John Banville, his use of language is amazing - and often he uses words I don't recognise which somehow adds to the enjoyment of reading his work.

As the previous reviewers have said, this is a strange book. All the way through it is reminiscent of a play, with the narrator Hermes and his father Zeus directing the narrative and the players. As gods, they can interrupt and change things at their whim. They can take on the form of the other characters to cause mischief, make love to them, or put ideas in their heads. The fact that some of the basic facts of life and history had been altered in the world of this book added to the feeling that I was reading (and at the same time, strangely watching) a drama - it wasn't supposed to be our world. I suspect there are references that I am not clever or educated enough to have picked up, but one of the main characters, Helen, is an actress and her mind often wanders to other plays in which she has acted.

The action takes place over the course of one day in a country house. Old Adam Godley is dying, and his family and other characters have gathered around him. Not an awful lot happens but the gods make subtle changes to ensure everything turns out all right, or as it should do, for all the characters.

Some parts of the book are downright bawdy, and earthy. There is much reference to the 'stink', 'pong' and 'whiff' of humans, and the bodily goings-on which is what being alive is all about. I too loved the philosopy; what distinguishes mortals from immortals being only two things - love and death and the fact that the gods, being denied these, crave them while humans take them for granted.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably a masterpiece
This novel records one ordinary day in the lives of a fairly regular family. Yet there is one extraordinary element to the day, it's that all are on a death watch and the day's... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Lily White
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual
This is a real break in style for Banville, and is testament to his bravery; it might alienate as many readers as it wins. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Withnail67
3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of his best.
The story line was flat, linear and made me very claustrophobic as did the characters. However, because of Banville's extraordinary way of writing, he could rewrite a telephone... Read more
Published 17 months ago by M
2.0 out of 5 stars Is this an alternative Banville?
On the face of it, this is typical of the literary genre with a dying patriarch at the centre, and the additional minor plot device of an alternate universe, familiar to any... Read more
Published 23 months ago by John Coffey
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it!
My first Banville and how I love it! What style. It is a joy to bathe in the quality of his writing.
Published 24 months ago by hark
2.0 out of 5 stars The master wordsmith goes a little too deep for me this time...
I do greatly dig John Banville in the main - think he's an absolute master stylist of English and I really enjoy the intellectual structures of his books. Read more
Published on 30 Aug 2012 by Andrew Sutherland
3.0 out of 5 stars A Midsummer Night's Dream
This is my first novel by John Banville and I suspect it is unlike anything else he has written and unlikely to be considered one of his best works. Read more
Published on 9 Jan 2011 by Kiwifunlad
2.0 out of 5 stars Very boring with an irritating conceit, but beautifully written
I had read The Sea previously, which drew me in quite quickly and kept my attention, and which I rate highly. Read more
Published on 4 July 2010 by Gołębnik
4.0 out of 5 stars "Birth and death are sources, it seems, out of which mortal ones...
John Banville, in his first "literary" novel since his Booker Prize-winning novel The Sea, presents a most unusual novel which takes place in Arden, a large family home somewhere... Read more
Published on 6 April 2010 by Mary Whipple
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting meditation on death, but rather tedious
John Banville frustrates me like no other author. On the one hand, he's one of the greatest wordsmiths at work in the English language; in particular, his ability to evoke a vivid... Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2010 by Phil
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