Synopses & Reviews
On a languid midsummer's day in the countryside, old Adam Godley, a renowned theoretical mathematician, is dying. His family gathers at his bedside: his son, young Adam, struggling to maintain his marriage to a radiantly beautiful actress; his nineteen-year-old daughter, Petra, filled with voices and visions as she waits for the inevitable; their stepmother, Ursula, whose relations with the Godley children are strained at best; and Petra's “young man”very likely more interested in the father than the daughter — who has arrived for a superbly ill-timed visit.
But the Godley family is not alone in their vigil. Around them hovers a family of mischievous immortals — among them, Zeus, who has his eye on young Adam's wife; Pan, who has taken the doughy, perspiring form of an old unwelcome acquaintance; and Hermes, who is the genial and omniscient narrator: “We too are petty and vindictive,” he tells us, “just like you, when we are put to it.” As old Adam's days on earth run down, these unearthly beings start to stir up trouble, to sometimes wildly unintended effect....
Blissfully inventive and playful, rich in psychological insight and sensual detail, The Infinities is at once a gloriously earthy romp and a wise look at the terrible, wonderful plight of being human — a dazzling novel from one of the most widely admired and acclaimed writers at work today.
"Dazzling....Banville is, without question, one of the great living masters of English-language prose. The Infinities is a dazzling example of that mastery." Los Angeles Times
"Unforgettable, beautifully written....Banville is frequently compared to such masters as Beckett and Nabokov, and for years his books have been among the most haunting, beautiful and downright strange in contemporary literature....If Banville is capable of writing an unmemorable sentence, he has successfully concealed the evidence." The Washington Post
"If The Infinities has the bones of a novel of ideas, it’s fleshed out and robed as a novel of sensibility and style....Sumptuous." The New York Times Book Review
"Ingenious....[The Infinities deals with] mortality, creativity, and the possibility of making something truly new in a world that seems increasingly exhausted morally, politically, and spiritually." The New Yorker
"Entrancing....Banville achieves real depth in this alternately grave and bawdy exploration of the nature of time, the legacy of grief, and the costs and sources of inspiration." San Francisco Chronicle
"Seamlessly sophisticated fiction....[Banville’s] agility is abundantly evident....It takes expert writerly effort to toss each little thunderbolt with such seeming ease." The New York Times
"Mesmerizing.... The Infinities is rife with mischief, as well as godly/authorial omniscience, irony and wordplay, but what warms and anchors it is its humanity." The Miami Herald
"Intriguing, complex, and ultimately elusive, The Infinities manages, through divine sleight of mind, to bring glimmers of possibility to its dark characters: as such, it is a novel for our hopeless times." Claire Messud, Irish Times
"A Midsummer Night’s Dream of a story....Pure pleasure." Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Banville’s best and brightest work....Masterful." Bookforum
"Banville may have surpassed himself with the brilliance and introspection of his writing in [this] mythic novel." The Buffalo News
"Characteristically gorgeous." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"Like Nabokov, Banville has a wide-ranging intellect and a rather godlike view of the power of fiction — and, like Nabokov, he’s got the goods to back it up. The Infinities is an inventive melding of myth and realism, a sly and poignant tale of lust and loss, but above all it is a joy to read for the sheer beauty of its language." St. Petersburg Times
"The Infinities is a Beethoven string quartet of a novel. It deals with huge ideas — plenty of them — and in doing so, breaks new ground in its own medium....A masterpiece of a book." Daily Telegraph (London)
On a languid midsummer’s day in the countryside, the Godley family gathers at the bedside of Adam, a renowned mathematician and their patriarch. But they are not alone in their vigil. Around them hovers a clan of mischievous immortals — Zeus, Pan, and Hermes among them — who begin to stir up trouble for the Godleys, to sometimes wildly unintended effect. The Infinities — John Banville’s first novel since his Booker Prize-winning and bestselling The Sea — is at once a gloriously earthy romp and a wise look at the terrible, wonderful plight of being human.
About the Author
John Banville, the author of fourteen previous novels, has been the recipient of the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Award, and a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. He lives in Dublin.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Booker Prize winner John Banville’s remarkable new novel, The Infinities.
1. Why has John Banville chosen The Infinities
as his title? In what ways is the novel about time and timelessness?
2. Many novels have been written about illness and death in a family. What makes The Infinities’ treatment of this situation so innovative? What truths about family life does the novel uncover?
3. The Infinities takes off from an imaginatively daring premise—not that the Greek gods have returned to intervene in human affairs, but that they never left. How does Banville manage to make this premise believable and enjoyable?
4. Hermes observes: “I listened to the medleyed buzz that summer makes, and thought how tentative these humans are, how they grope and fumble among their motives, hiding their desires, their hopes and trepidations from each other and themselves, perennial children that they are” (pp. 78–79). In what ways is this observation true of the characters in the novel? Is it an accurate assessment of how humans generally behave?
5. What draws the gods to the human world? How do they regard the predicaments of their earthly creations?
6. Death is an agonizing prospect for humans, but for the gods just the opposite is true—they are haunted by their deathlessness. What tensions are created in the novel through these opposing perspectives? What does the novel as a whole seem to say about death?
7. Rex the dog feels that humans “are afraid of something, something that is always there though they pretend it is not. . . . And when they weep, their sobs and lamentations are disproportionate, as though what is supposed to have upset them is just a pretext and their anguish springs really from this other frightful thing that they know and are trying to ignore” (p. 181). What is this frightful thing? Why would Banville choose to view this mystery from Rex’s perspective?
8. Do the gods create tensions among the humans gathered at the Godleys’ house or simply manipulate tensions that are already present?
9. The elder Adam ruminates about love and thinks that “to love properly and in earnest one would have to do it anonymously or at least in an undeclared fashion, so as not to seem to ask anything in return, since asking and getting are the antithesis of love” (p. 209). What unacknowledged irony is present in this observation?
10. How does the arrival of Pan, in the form of Benny Grace, complicate the plot of the novel?
11. Near the end of the novel, Hermes observes: “This is the mortal world. It is a world where nothing is lost, where all is accounted for while yet the mystery of things is preserved; a world where they may live, however briefly, however tenuously, in the failing evening of the self, solitary and at the same time together somehow here in this place, dying as they may be and yet fixed forever in a luminous, unending instant” (p. 272). What is it that lifts this passage toward the register of great poetry? How can its apparent contradictions—solitary and together, dying and yet forever fixed, unending and instant—be understood?
12. The Infinities is a mostly comic novel. What are its most humorous scenes? What are some of its more poignant moments?
13. Adam’s scientific work centers around time and the interpenetration of multiple worlds. How does the novel itself explore the idea of time and the overlapping of different realities?
14. Why does Banville choose to end The Infinities with Hermes intimating to Adam that his wife Helen is “with child”? In what ways is this a satisfying and fitting ending to the novel?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center e-newsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com.)