on 2 July 2000
After his books on Copernicus and Kepler John Banville's "The Newton Letter" is about the gulf between the scientific and the emotional-the rational and the irrational. A writer, writing a biography of Newton, spends a summer on a farm to finish his book. He becomes involved with the family who own the farm: a perfectly ordinary family with an ordinary "secret", but so unused to the world of the emotions is he that he finds them fascinating and exotic. He has an affair with one of them, and falls in love with another although he knows nothing about her. He blunders about in the dark: just like a medieval astronomer trying to make sense of a universe whose rules he has no idea of. And, like Newton, he has a breakdown - tortured, as Newton was, by the understanding that his work is not adequate to explain the world. People keep telling him he knows nothing about what's going on under his nose but only at the end does he realise how true this is. This is a beautifully written book - I can't think of another British writer who writes so well. I loved the opening sentence: "Words fail me..."- a teasing way to start a novel: an art form that is nothing without words.