The Infinities (Borzoi Books)
All set in the space of a day, The Infinities tells a tale of the Godleys as they gather at Arden, the family home, at the sick bed of Adam, the husband and father. Adam has suffered a stroke and is not expected to live. While everyone thinks that he is vegetative, we find that his mind works very well indeed.
We meet Adam’s wife, Ursula, a secret drinker; son, also named Adam, and his wife Helen, whose relationship is strained to say the least; daughter Petra, the self abusing depressive; and various extras from outside the immediate family. These include Roddy Wagstaff, the so-called boyfriend of Petra and would-be biographer of Adam the elder; Ivy Blount, whose family owned Arden until she fell on hard times; and the enigmatic Benny Grace, whose appearance throws the house into confusion. The omniscient narrator is Hermes, ancient messenger of the Greek gods and guide to the underworld. Hermes’ father, Zeus, who lusts after Helen and is persistently trying to have sex with her while she sleeps, often joins us as well.
The novel is set in a future where people travel in the latest steam train and in vehicles powered by cold fusion. Yet this is by no means a science fiction novel. Instead this is an alternate reality, a non-specific time and place where things are familiar but not quite as we expect.
The Infinities continues Banville’s exploration of otherness, the feeling of being outside of the norm, while actually being no more than a different sort of normal. Each of the characters has a sense of complicity or responsibility, though for what exactly we, and they, are never quite sure. Each seems in some way central to the over-all functioning of the house. From each we gain some insight as to what it is that makes up the whole. This is a motif that echoes Banville’s previous novels. The house operates as a microcosm, a representation of the world at large. Each character brings his or her own thoughts and feelings to bear on the whole. What results is not quite what any of them really want or anticipate.
Banville has often been accused of being obscure and verbose. His early work was frequently difficult to access. As his career has progressed he has refined his skill to the point that he can now justifiably be compared with the likes of Nabakov and Beckett. Since the early seventies, Banville has been recognized as a rare talent, winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) in 1976 for Dr. Copernicus, the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1981 for Kepler, being short listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989 for The Book of Evidence, and winning the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2005 with The Sea.
He truly paints a picture with his words. In The Infinities we know the characters and the setting as we would if we were there, intimately yet incompletely. Like his narrator, another erudite articulate male, Banville gives the impression of narration rather than creation. He is telling us about a time and place that could be real, could be happening now, could be us.