Friday, February 5, 2010

The Infinities, John Banville

BEST OF 2010

A bit of Chekhovian chamber piece. A bit of Shakespearean comedy. And a touch of Bergman's Cries and Whispers.

The Infinities plays out as a stage production. A family returning to a childhood home as their father, old Adam, takes his last breath. The dialogue is sparse. The detail is delicious. The depth is incomparable.

The novel is narrated by Hermes, a god of Greek myths. At first, I was hesitant to enjoy this narrator. To find purpose for Banville's decision. By the end, I understood. Banville needed a voice who knew all. Such a complex story required an outsider. And, only an outsider, a god-like figure, could take notice of the imperfections of human nature. Only a god-like voice could be honest and untrusting at the same time.

Hermes adds a lot of the humor to the novel. His father, Zeus, briefly inhabits the bodies of other men and the dreams of women in order to have physical contact. Hermes admits love was created by humans. Gods never would have created something so imperfect. This is both humorous and painful.

While Hermes adds another level to the novel, the thoughts and interactions of the family members are key. The complexity of lust, loss, and loathing are shown in equal measure.

Banville's prose is as perfect as it was in The Sea. This novel isn't quite as beautiful as its predecessor, but it comes close.


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