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The Infinities

3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  1,645 ratings  ·  335 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 mother, Ursula, whose rela ...more
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published February 23rd 2010 by Knopf (first published August 25th 2009)
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I've read somewhere that the main thing a novelist needs to accomplish in the first 10% of a story is to convince the reader to keep reading. John Banville obviously does not feel bound by this advice. Hell, no, with a kind of oblivious arrogance that might almost be admirable, if it weren't so irritating, he launches this grotesquely overwritten galley of pretentious claptrap, and let the reader be damned!

The domineering patriarch lies dying in the upper chamber. Assorted members of the family
I cannot resist reading Banville aloud. His command of prose style is without equal among contemporary writers in English. When Banville uses a comma, it is for a very good reason and must be read to preserve the rhythm of the sentence as well as the sense. Despite the beauty of his prose, which borders often on poetry, he is playful in The Infinities with both characters and readers, as befits a comedy. One can, in fact, read this novel as a play. It is, in part, a restaging of Amphitryon, comp ...more
James Murphy
What do we think of when we think of the abode of the gods? Swans gliding across still waters, laurel hedges from which butterflies tumble, birdsong hidden in dappled sunlight? That's the atmosphere of Arden, the home of the Godley family in The Infinities, also the home of the gods. Infinities here are described as time subject to slippages so that "all possibilities are fulfilled." Banville plays with the notion that the gods are still with us.

The Godley family is in crisis. Old Adam, their he
I should have bought my own copy of The Infinities; it’s a book to linger over, not read in haste because it’s due back at the library. It is a beautiful book.

I like Banville’s playful characterisation. This is a story about a household reunion because the patriarch old Adam Godley is dying, but the household is watched over by the ancient Greek gods. They watch the vigil with cynical amusement and mild jealousy; they interfere out of malice and selfishness. They are petty and vindictive; they
“Banville has astonishing powers…This is unequivocally a work of brilliance” blurbs the Spectator on the back of the dust jacket. And my hometown paper, the KC Star placed it among its top 10 novels of 2009. So what the heck, I bought it on discount at Borders a year ago. It has been in my “to read” stack ever since. It never seems to move up. With a wild hair, I moved it above Adrian McKinty’s Bloomsday trilogy and several others that I know I will enjoy. It’s been a while since I have read any ...more
Charles Matthews
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It's clever, witty, imaginative and filled with ideas -- all things I prize in a book. And yet it lacks coherence, perhaps even a sense of full commitment by the author to his novel. I don't feel Banville's dedication to the material, a sense that he really had a compelling reason or desire to tell this story.

It is a kind of homage to the story of Amphytrion -- the mortal cuckolded by Zeus, who took Amphitryon's own shape to seduce his wife, Alc
I lasted only 30 pages, though do feel slightly bad only giving 2 stars given the reasonable writing calibre - but then again, reasonable prose does not make a book (and that's what this prose is - reasonable, not jaw-dropping, for good flow is not all it's about (though Banville, to be sure, does achieve very good flow)). I came to Banville having heard some people really rate his style. Sure, it flows, is pretty light on the eye, and he takes care over his words; but, to be brutally honest, I ...more
Does anyone write a richer more mellifluous prose than John Banville? Still, at times I find his style too oleagenous for my taste, to use one of his favorite words (moreover, his obsession with "f" alliteration can sometimes tires). This novel, very much in the Irish tradition, deals with a dysfunctional family--or, actually two, dysfunctional families, the second being the family of Greek gods who overlooks and at certain points interferes with the earthly family. The narrator is Hermes who ha ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
The Infinities replays the myth of Amphitryon, in which Zeus seduces a mortal woman while disguised as her husband. Banville's modern-day retelling, however, with all its conceits of the classical gods' ability (or inability) to impersonate humans and its celestial-earthly humor, met with dissent from critics. Many thought that the novel reached the literary heights of The Sea in its rich, elegant writing, sensuous details, and witty farce. But a few reviewers described the novel as overwritten ...more
As enchanted as I was by Banville's beautiful prose, this farcical meditation on what it means to be silly foolish human things, babes really, I can't deny I was ready for this novel to end. To say by closing page I was well-worn would be fitting. Time to move on, as though from an exotic restaurant, from a dinner perhaps appreciated more than enjoyed.

Other reviewers have noted the distinct lack of story here, and I can understand. While the novel has a feel of timelessness, in fact could be sa
I wanted to like this. It had moments where the writing was really engaging, and one metaphor early on that was really moving. But I just couldn't buy it. Overall, I found the language overbearing, the mythology ridiculous and shoe-horned into the story, and the "plot" completely pointless. I don't even mind, sometimes, there not being a plot. I resolved, pretty early on, that this book was more of a vignette of a day than a plot driven novel, and I could live with that. But the ending was absur ...more
On the surface of it, The Infinities is a simple story, set, like Joyce’s Ulysses within the space of 24 hours in a single setting – an old country house in Ireland. The story pivots around Adam Godley, the aptly named family patriarch and famous mathematician/scientist who lies comatose and dying after a massive stroke. During this time, although a number of visitors come and go, and there are revelations, resolutions, and perceptions, nothing particular appears to happen, at least by human sta ...more
Karen Loveridge
I was looking forward to this book because I thought the story concept was interesting. However, the story totally fell apart under the EXTREME weight of similee and description. I listened to the audio version and couldn't get to the story because so much time was spent establishing mood. No object or person esecaped a minimum 3 sentence description chock full of metaphores.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good descriptive phrase, and metaphores are a good thing -- but a bit of restrait would hav
A great mathematician lies dying in another of the infinity of separate but intermingled worlds that he has discovered exist. It is subtly different from ours -- cold fusion works, Wallace and not Darwin is remembered, Kleist is the great genius and Goethe forgotten, and, most importantly, the Greek gods continue to fumble about in the lives of mortals. The place is called Arden and has more than a little of the whiff of Shakespeare's wood about it.

But this is really mostly beside the point, si
I rarely give up on a book, but I did on this one. I am a huge fan of Greek mythology and love the whole multiverse, infinite worlds theories. This book takes place over just one day, it is about the death of a father, that happens to be a god. Yes some interesting thoughts on the infinite, on gods, and on families but not enough to ramble on for an entire novel. Just because one can write eloquent sentences, does not mean that they are writing good novels. I cannot recommend this novel as I was ...more
Jun 23, 2012 Margaret rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Margaret by: Erik
This is simply a stunningly beautiful book. It focuses on a family which is gathered together because the father, Adam Godley, a brilliant theoretical mathematician, is on his deathbed. He is attended by his second wife, his son Adam (and Adam's wife Helen), and his daughter Petra. Petra's "young man" visits, although his interest in Petra is not clear. There are a few others stopping by the Godley home as well. The narrator of the novel is Hermes, the Greek god (aka Mercury), and Zeus and Pan p ...more
The Infinities takes place is one of the multiple universes whose existence was proven by the dying patriarch in the novel – the mathematician Adam Godley. In this universe, the Greeks gods are more than mythological. Hermes acts as narrator and influences the plot along with Zeus and Pan. While the storyline isn’t unique (family gathering for the impending death of a father), the perspective undoubtedly is. Banville comments on the limits of human expression using the senior Adam Godley:

The Greek gods are still hanging around, apparently, unbeknownst to us, overseeing and to varying degrees affecting our earthly passages (while making sure that "all divots [are] replaced" after their interventions). So Banville's latest novel imagines, at least, which suggests a rather beguiling cross-pollination of, say, Wim Wenders' luminous film Wings of Desire and Virginia Woolf's introspective fictional style. The gods here -- as they look down on their "little ones" and try to ward off th ...more
Κατερίνα Μαλακατέ
Δεν θα ξεκινήσω να εξηγώ γιατί πήρα το «Άπειροι κόσμοι» του Μπάνβιλ, γιατί δεν θα έχει κανένα νόημα. Πριν από μερικά χρόνια, όταν διάβασα τη «Θάλασσα», δυσκολεύτηκα να βρω την όποια γοητεία στη γραφή του, οπότε μάλλον έφταιξα που εμπιστεύτηκα το οπισθόφυλλο και έδωσα στο συγγραφέα μια ακόμα ευκαιρία. Μου πήρε χρόνο να τελειώσω το βιβλίο, και το έκανα από αναγνωστική διαστροφή και τίποτε άλλο. Ούτε το τέλος με ενθουσίασε. Είπαμε, στην τελική ανάλυση έχει να κάνει και με τη χημεία βιβλίου- αναγνώσ ...more
What utter rubbish!! I JUST finished this book and I swear I don't know why I bothered! Well, I do- it's because I promised myself that I would complete each and every one of my "current" books, even though I am not remotely invested in them, just to keep giving them a chance. But this one, a total waste of time!

The entire books is centered around this dying man and those connected to him. And oh yes, some silly bored gods who mischievously tamper with their lives.

I mean, seriously??!!! I thoug
John Banville is one of the great stylists of contemporary English-language fiction, and his abundant talents are on exuberant, rollicking display in The Infinities. The action of the novel takes place over a single day, as Adam Godley, the famous theoretical mathematician, lies dying in a top floor room of his huge country home (called Arden House). Surrounding him are his much younger wife Ursula (a closet alcoholic), his neurotic and profoundly insecure daughter Petra, his ungainly and impres ...more
Well, this was a curious book! The writing style was just what I was looking for in a Banville novel. The premise though was kind of silly!

The story takes place around the deathbed of a father. He is surrounded by his family and some obtrusive visitors and in his coma-state, is unable to communicate with them. Mingling in the house as well are a couple of the Ancient Greek Gods. Wait.... what?

I can't quite place my finger on what it was that made the novel poignant. I can't come up with the wor
I loved this book. The characters are amazing, and each one charming in his or her own way, and their interactions with one another, also a source of endless delight. To be introduced to such an interesting group of people at such a critical watershed event in their lives, is almost all one could possibly want. The story -- or I should say, interleaved and interpenetrating stories -- well, I found those compelling too, but once you care about the characters, perhaps that's not surprising. I ente ...more
Catherine Siemann
Strong on characters, light on plot. I loved this book for its beautiful writing, some of which I'd first heard the author read at the 92nd Street Y. A distinguished mathematician is dying, and his family gathers around him in his country house, where predictably all their own issues come to the forefront. But unusually, for a character-based family dysfunction novel, the narration is largely from the perspective of the Greek god Hermes, who reveals that he and his kindred are still very much a ...more
I just didn't like this novel. The opening scene was wonderful (depicting the shift from night to dawn), and of course Banville can write like crazy, but he also over-writes. The strangely mocking anti-science message irritated me, and I didn't enjoy entertaining the idea of creepy-acting gods (or God) pulling the strings in human life - that we are puppets (as flies to wanton boys . . .). I've heard that Banville takes a very different approach to writing the "Benjamin Black" mysteries, so I st ...more
You know you are in the presence of a master with Banville, whose stories are as fine and smooth as Ian McEwan's. This is the first I've read but I will read more. The Infinities is the story of one day in the life of a dying man's family while they reconcile their ghosts and prepare for the future all the while being watched over and meddled with by the Greek gods Zeus and Mercury. There is a tilt at the end towards a happy-ish ending -- that I won't tell you about -- that makes this not your t ...more
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Martin Lesser
I read and enjoyed this book on the recommendation of another goodreads user. It fall into the realm of magical realism and as one might expect from a Booker prize winning author extremely well written. In fact the prose is quite extraordinary and enjoyable in itself. A famous mathematician is dying in the presence of his family in an isolated country estate somewhere in England. As one reads on it becomes apparent that the world inhabited by the family is not quite the one we live in. For examp ...more
Terry Wheeler
I don't know much about John Banville. I bought 'The Untouchable' when it came out in the late 1990s after reading a review in the paper. I enjoyed the book but then forgot the author. Heard a bit about him on a recent visit to Ireland so I reread that book and really liked it the second time. Then I found 'The Infinities' in a bookshop where all the books were $6. Now having finished this novel I find myself wanting to read more of this author.

Banville's writing is so precise and mischievous. H
The intriguing setup of The Infinities, involving Greek gods overseeing and interfering with the lives of a modern-day family faced with the imminent death of its patriarch, drew me to the book but left me frustrated at its execution. The story is primed for some Olympian hijinks wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting Godley family -- because we know the Greek gods are a sex-crazed, jealous, vindictive sort -- but the gods' roles are so minor as to be irrelevant. We're left with a half-baked family ...more
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Pieces of The Infinities 1 28 Mar 24, 2010 12:20PM  
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Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up ...more
More about John Banville...
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“You will remember this when all else fades, this moment, here, together, by this well. There will be certain days, and certain nights, you’ll feel my presence near you, hear my voice. You’ll think you have imagined it and yet, inside you, you will catch an answering cry. On April evenings, when the rain has ceased, your heart will shake, you’ll weep for nothing, pine for what’s not there. For you, this life will never be enough, there will forever be an emptiness, where once the god was all in all in you.” 33 likes
“This love, this mortal love, is of their own making," Hermes muses, "the thing we did not intend, foresee or sanction. How then should it not fascinate us? . . . It is as if a fractious child had been handed a few timber shavings and a bucket of mud to keep him quiet only for him promptly to erect a cathedral. . . . Within the precincts of this consecrated house they afford each other sanctuary, excuse each other their failings, their sweats and smells, their lies and subterfuges, above all their ineradicable self-obsession. This is what baffles us, how they wriggled out of our grasp and somehow became free to forgive each other for all that they are not.” 7 likes
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