Customer Review

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book will divide opinion, 24 Aug. 2009
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This review is from: The Infinities (Hardcover)
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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 The Sea, or indeed any other of Banville's work, but I have heard similar criticisms of his previous Booker-prize winning effort. If you read The Sea and couldn't see what all the fuss was about, consider giving this book a miss. However, if you were one of the many readers who loved The Sea, or if the idea of a disconsolate deity messing about with the nature of the universe has whet your appetite, then I'd recommend you give The Infinities a try. You might just love it.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Aug 2009 09:56:03 BDT
Max, can I ask you (possible spoiler here folks so stop reading if you don't want to know plot stuff) what did you think about the chapter in which it appeared that actually 'Hermes' is Adam - where Adam's voice suddenly turns into Hermes', for a minute, and then back again? I was already feeling a bit mystified, but that really foxed me, and I would love to know what someone else thought!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2009 13:10:50 BDT
Love Books says:
Hi Emma, I've just finished this book and have a feeling that maybe it was all supposed to be in Adam's mind (just realised the significance of his surname being 'Godley') and we were told quite a lot how much he was attracted to Helen. Oh I don't know! I don't think I'm clever enough. It would be a great book club book though, there's so much to be confused about! I enjoyed both your reviews, Jess.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2009 22:44:50 BDT
Yeah by the end, I was thinking the same thing! Well thank you for making me not feel mad... And i definitely DIDN'T spot that wonderful surname, so you are definitely cleverer than me anyhow. I love your definition of a good book club book as one with lots to be confused about...

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2009 14:44:59 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Aug 2009 14:46:06 BDT
Max says:
Hi Emma,

SPOILER ALERT!

Yeah this really foxed me too! I had a couple of thoughts on this - one at the time of reading and another one on reflection...

At the time of reading I assumed that this chapter was Hermes possessing Old Adam in order to tamper with things (in particular to wake him up), in the same way that Zeus possesses Young Adam etc.

But then after I'd finished I had a more outlandish thought. The book makes much of the Infinities that Old Adam and Benny discover/invent. Benny is also (possessed by) another of the gods, Pan. So I wondered if perhaps Old Adam and Benny are actually Hermes and Pan - that in the course of discovering the Infinities they became gods, and that the whole book is a play on the notion that humans, through science, are attempting to become gods.

In this way Hermes and Old Adam are always the same voice, it's just that we only discover this late on in the book.

As I say, its a fairly outlandish thought, but then its a fairly outlandish book!

Max
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