Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 16 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Infinities (Hardcover)
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Why do you read novels? For the story? Here, disappointment awaits you. To engage with a fierce intellect; to learn about the human condition; to mull over, with a like mind, things you thought were unique to you and to find (a) they're not and (b) it's comfortable they're not when the person talking about them is someone like John Banville? Read on.

The plot is unimportant (inasmuch as there is a plot, anyway). Here there is a new development of the notion of the omniscient narrator (is Banville at the age where he just wants to impart knowledge and understanding?) which the device (of the narrator being Hermes) allows.

The writing is effortlessly good, wholly natural-seeming (plainly it's not: whether there is a plot, the plotting of the narrative is ingenious and knowing). This is a prodigious imagination at work.

The book is set - well, you must judge where for yourself. Banville observes at one point that
"the greater part of the world's energy nowadays is converted from brine", which may provide a clue. It doesn't really matter, perhaps. Banville has created a wonderfully rich cast of characters and, if one doesn't actually find many of them particularly attractive, it can be borne in mind that the narrator is Hermes and human lives are the gods' playthings, so the narrator is by definition unsympathetic.

Against this simple background Banville sets his story and his thoughts. I don't like books with "points" or "messages" and certainly to attempt to reduce The Infinities to any such thing would be as demeaning as it would be difficult. One thing in particular struck me, though: how boring it must be to be a god, immortal, not having the spice of death to enliven life and meaning you end up messing with people's lives to relieve the boredom.

This is the best book I have read in a long time.

What to do with it now? Bookshelf/friend/bookshop/bin? Bookshelf. And buy a copy for a friend, too.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Sep 2009 12:37:48 BDT
Interesting point about the plot, because I started thinking but actually there IS quite a good plot, because Adam is teetering between life and death, and there's the weird love interest plot with the son's wife, and whatever is going on with the strange domestic employees, and actually once I started thinking about it there's quite a lot going on. Will the gods interfere? What is actually going on? I think I wouldn't have kept reading if I didn't want to know what happened in the end... A very old-fashioned reason for reading!

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2009 17:39:59 BDT
I know what you mean, Emma: there is something that keeps you reading and it's not just the ideas. I think - for me - it was being captivated by the characters, even if none of them is particularly likeable!
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