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The Newton Letter (Revolutions Trilogy #3)

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  392 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
A historian, trying to finish a long-overdue book on Isaac Newton, rents a cottage not far by train from Dublin for the summer. All he needs, he thinks, is a few weeks of concentrated work. Why, he must unravel, did Newton break down in 1693? What possessed him to write that strange letter to his friend John Locke? But in the long seeping summer days, old sloth and present ...more
Paperback, 81 pages
Published May 1st 1999 by David R Godine (first published 1982)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,165)
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Feb 09, 2016 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd assumed this would be a historical novel following on from Banville's Doctor Copernicus and Kepler, but it proved to be a novella set in the modern day (well, the mid-1980s).

A historian is blocked towards the end of his chunky biography of Isaac Newton, the sticking point being the unexplained nervous breakdown that Newton suffered relatively late in life. Our hero rents a cottage for the summer in the grounds of a ramshackle house in the countryside in hopes that the solitude will force him
Dec 31, 2009 James rated it really liked it
The blurb on the jacket sums it up: this is a great Banville primer for those unfamiliar. The character quirks, the sardonic humor, the beautiful prose, it's all there in around 100 pages. Because it's around 100 pages, though, this is a piece that tends to skim through a lot of character development and narrative events, choosing instead to sum it up in tone and atmosphere. A fantastic read for style alone, but not as fulfilling as some of Banville's lengthier efforts.
Oct 22, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
THE NEWTON LETTER. (U.S. ed. 1987). John Banville. ****.
This is Banville’s third novel dealing with iconic astronomers, this time Isaac Newton. It is the story of a writer who has taken up residence at a cottage on a large farm in Ireland where he expects to find the quiet and solitude needed to finish his great novel on Newton. This short book is in the form of a letter to a friend of his explaining why he can no longer finish the book. The main reason for this is that he has gotten involved w
Jan 03, 2015 Rushyenka rated it liked it
The review over at my blog: http://readingaroundtheglobe.tumblr.c...

To be utterly honest, I hadn’t heard of John Banville till I came across a tome of his books at a local bookstore that happened to be clearing out their stock at half-price. I grabbed an armful of books that day and picked two by Banville, going purely by the descriptions on the back. I got The Newton Letter and Mefisto, easily missing his most famous and award-winning title The Sea (of which I now recall, with the retrospectiv
Dec 28, 2008 rr added it
A novella that beguiles and keeps its distance, The Newton Letter reflects on (as well as enacts) the tension, slippage, and oscillation between intimacy and unknowability, things and thoughts, the world and words.
(She hesitates, then adds: That sentence may have said nothing; or maybe it's said everything?)
Oct 18, 2010 Rob rated it really liked it
Shelves: lit
A nice, tidy little novel of ideas. This one had the deserves-to-be-savoured prose that has become my main reason for reading Banville, but also, unusually for Banville, had some moments of humor reminiscent of Amis.

"Outside the kitchen windows the chestnut tree murmured softly in its green dreaming. The afternoon had begun to wane."

"He carries his satchel like a hunchback's hump"

"He brooded a moment, frowning, and the blue of the Dardanelles bloomed briefly in his doomy eyes. I watched the hawk
Taylor Lee
Jun 19, 2016 Taylor Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, masterful, startlingly precise.

Banville's art, to speak superficially, at first, with reference to language and to style, which of course find their origin in the sentence, its structure, namely, which is shaped by punctuation, on the one hand, a paucity lending a staccato-like rushedness and an abundance, on the other, tainting the writing baroque, overwrought, excessive-- Banville's prose is surgical, almost, but warms to escape the frigid expanse that Nabokov's writing so often inh
May 22, 2015 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This well-written novella reminds me of one of those bland but well-acted English films that take place in the countryside, in which tweedy villagers live lives of quiet desperation. In fact, I'm surprised it hasn't already been turned into a movie by someone like Stephen Frears.

The book also reminds me a bit of Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending in that the narrator's understanding of what's going on around him is incorrect--except that in this case what he imagines is going on is more m
Mar 20, 2016 William rated it really liked it
Besotting. Inside from the spring light and the cold air, as your heart beats too hard and you eye the edge of a blouse, the full curve of the girl inside it, you think about your affairs, the women whose promises were low and secret, the disappointments, and the disappointings, and which of those you had not created. The novel here you see and inhabit, can submit to, as to a beguiling girl -- you make it sound as if it were an effort at all. The book calls to afternoons too bright for falsehood ...more
Nick Briggs
Dec 24, 2014 Nick Briggs rated it really liked it
When I read anything by John Banville I find myself mesmerised just by the skill and depth of his writing. This short novel did not disappoint and has Banville, as always, mixing his astute observations with simple, almost philosophical conclusions drawn; 'There was no sense of life messily making itself from moment to moment. It had all been lived already, and we were merely tracing the set patterns, as if not living but remembering'.

I think this was a very good novel that could have been a gr
Such an odd, fleeting novel(la)... It reminds me of Coetzee's Disgrace or some sort of Ethan Frome- Gatsby hybrid... That is to say, I can't quite nail it down. So very strange a tale indeed. Ah! But the language! Oh the cauldron of words!
Aug 12, 2014 Vishy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slim novella. Banville's prose is exquisite as always. Made me realize why I love Banville so much. Need to read all his books some day (this is my third book of his). Beautiful book by one of my favourite authors.
Jul 02, 2015 Nigel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is such a peculiar little book, not in and of itself, but because it is the third in a trilogy dealing with great historical scientists and their world-changing discoveries, and yet Isaac Newton barely features. The narrator is writing, and has abandoned near completion, a book about the physicist, but there is only one real direct exploration of Newton, via two letters written during or as a result of a nervous breakdown, and one of those letters is fictional. Instead, we have an odd littl ...more
May 12, 2013 Ugh rated it really liked it
There are writers who are so good that I find it a relief to read their work, because my petty jealousies simply fall aside, like blades of grass before a Massy Ferguson.

Banville is one of them. He's a writer whose style is what I think of as writerly, a gobsmackingly inadequate term I know but one I haven't yet bettered. What I mean by it is that way certain writers have of trying to be, I guess, literary, by going overboard in selecting unusual words, overusing metaphor, or shoehorning in obse
Ad Blankestijn
"The Newton Letter" is an exquisite novella, written in an enigmatic and often cryptic style, about a historian who discovers he is wrong in the interpretation of his relations with others and the world around him, which in its turn brings on a crisis of faith in his work as a historian. See my blog Splendid Labyrinths for more details. A good introduction to the work of John Banville.
Jan 31, 2016 Irwin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Banville's prose is gorgeous, and I find I read him for that rather than the stories he writes. Learned of this one from a Wall St Journal review of best love triangles stories. Enthralling story of a writer renting a cottage where he falls for the niece, than the aunt, but has an affair with only one of them Very short (80 pages) and worth it for the quality. Not sure if it would be a twice the pages.
Sep 01, 2015 Fabian rated it it was amazing
Practically flawless, the taut tale is about knowing that you know very little after all. And that some laws of nature are not fixed: the human element messes everything up. And elevates it.

Here, a master of beautiful, careful prose. Contender for my favorite novel of the year.
Aug 19, 2014 Vani rated it it was ok
I read The Newton Letter in one sitting primarily because it was a thin novel at only 96 pages. I like the story but found the language cumbersome. The narrator tells his tale using metaphors and at times it felt over done to the point of weighing the story down.
Dec 31, 2013 Caroline rated it really liked it
An author rents a cottage on an estate in Ireland to finish writing his book on Isaac Newton, and instead becomes obsessed with a family living in the big house. His obsession leads him to imagine lives for the members of the family that are a far cry from the truth.

It's a beautifully written narrative of a man's thoughts and the motivation that propels his actions and inaction. There were moments when I could not like the man, and moments when I sympathized with him. The ending was disquieting
Dec 08, 2007 Trevor rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
I'm very fond of Banville's writing, and I've liked many of his books, but this one is his best, I think. It is quite a short novel.

There are lovely little allusions to Newton's life in the book - for example, when the main character meets his love interest it is when she comes carrying a boy who has fallen out of a tree and landed on his head. Just lovely. Banville often captures something terribly human about our relationships - one of the things I remember most from this book is the main char
Tarah Luke
Mar 24, 2016 Tarah Luke rated it liked it
#1001books #772left

Short and sweet. This one was about a historian's attempt to get away from the world to write his book, only to find the world still with him.
A.K. Klemm
Jan 30, 2014 A.K. Klemm rated it it was amazing
Read my full reviews on my blog:
Jun 10, 2015 Aarti added it
Feb 27, 2015 Melissa rated it it was ok
Feb 21, 2015 Kathy rated it it was ok
not very different from The Sea. Well, it's short, and it's read now. His writing is almost too pretty for me.
Jan 17, 2013 Elalma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Banville scrive bene, cattura con le sue atmosfere ovattate, ma non posso perdonargli di aver maltrattato così Ottilia, immagine che per Goethe era l'emblema dell 'amore sublimato nei sentimenti e nell'emotività mentre qui incarna una ragazza pratica reale e grossolana. Forse vuole vendicarsi dei personaggi delle Affinità Elettive, attratto da quel gruppetto un po' snob, romantico e affascinante di cui il protagonista vorrebbe far parte.
Aonghus Fallon
Sep 13, 2013 Aonghus Fallon rated it liked it
I'm not a huge Banville fan - for me, his prose has a kind of airless perfection and little or no emotional range - but I liked this story, maybe because the central character ultimately ends up a victim of his own pretensions. A historian finishing an important work in a remote cottage, he finds himself identifying with a local Anglo-Irish family, only to discover things are not necessarily what they seem.
This is the first book that I have read by John Banville. It was a very short book and it seemed a little vague to me. This book leads one to believe that the book is about Isaac Newton but he is only mentioned and not really the focus of the book. That being said, I look forward to reading another of his books in order to compare the writing with this one as I feel this is not one of his best books.
Aug 15, 2012 Gerald rated it really liked it
John Banville writes the most beautiful prose. He has a complete mastery of metaphor and simile.

For example:
"In the city of the flesh I travel without maps, a worried tourist: and Ottilie was a very Venice. I stumbled lost in the blue shades of her pavements. Here was a dreamy stillness, a swaying, the splash of an oar."

Sep 15, 2013 Carolyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Favorite line: "A trapdoor had been lifted briefly on dim thrashing forms, and now it was shut again." That is how this rather morose narrator experiences his encounters with other people. He's a wonderfully drawn character, reluctant to live and sort of bumbling into a life-story.
Ah. And note: the novel is not about Newton per se.
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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...

Other Books in the Series

Revolutions Trilogy (4 books)
  • Doctor Copernicus  (Revolutions Trilogy, #1)
  • Kepler  (Revolutions Trilogy, #2)
  • The Revolutions Trilogy

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“In the city of flesh I travel without maps, a worried tourist: and Ottilie was a very Venice. I stumbled lost in the blue shade of her pavements. Here was a dreamy stillness, a swaying, the splash of an oar. Then, when I least expected it, suddenly I stepped out into the great square, the sunlight, and she was a flock of birds scattering with soft cries in my arms.” 3 likes
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