The Infinities by John Banville

Posted on March 7, 2011


*I received this book as a review copy from Random House for my university newspaper.  This begins my professional literary review career…hopefully*
John Banville’s fifteenth novel handles the issues of family and death in uncommon ways, leading readers to question their own lives and be entertained at the same time.“The Infinities” opens with Adam Godley, renowned mathematician, on his deathbed after suffering a stroke.  Godley’s wife, daughter, son and daughter-in-law have gathered for what they expect to be their last goodbyes.   As the novel progresses readers are introduced to some familiar Greek gods who meddle in the family’s already trying lives.

The novel is written in the first person with the main narrator being Hermes, god of travelers, doctors and a slew of other things.  Hermes handles the affairs of his nosey father, Zeus and the Godley’s family at the same time; sometimes butting in where he is not wanted.

Overall this story is interesting.  The plot is fairly typical; a family deals with grief felt from losing a family member and stories are told through flashbacks and introspective monologues. The deviation from the norm is the inclusion of the Greek pantheon; by adding the intercession of gods into the Godleys’ life, it makes otherwise everyday occurrences unique.

Although the story focuses on the Godley family, the most engrossing characters are the gods themselves.  Banville’s writing is good, but his characters fall flat, especially when they are put in unlikely situations.  When a woman is accosted in the woods by a stranger who kisses her, generally a woman would be upset.  Not here, the woman just walks back to the house and goes about her day like nothing is wrong.

Many times throughout the novel readers are subjected to lurid sexual fantasies; sometimes between god and mortal, sometimes between married couples, sometimes between farmhand and maid and sometimes even incest.

Aside from some flat characters and pornographic material though, “The Infinities” delivers a very engrossing story forcing readers to evaluate their own lives and how they would react when faced with the imminent death of a loved one. Banville gives proof that a compelling story is stronger than the technical errors.  The seasoned writer may have tested his limits, but ultimately, the lessons learned from “The Infinites” continue to affect readers, even after some of the more salacious areas of the novel are finished.

The story takes an interesting, though somewhat expected turn at the end, but “The Infinities” delivers right until the last page.

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