The Infinities – John Banville

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The Infinities is one of those rare books that I enjoyed despite the lack of any real plot.  It is a gentle, reflective book observing a household for one day, as the father lies dying in his bed. You’ve probably read lots of books that sound similar to that, but what makes this one special is that it is narrated by a playful God.

But what attention we lavished on the making of this poor place! The lengths we went to, the pains we took, that it should be plausible in every detail – planting in the rocks the fossils of outlandish creatures that never existed, distributing fake dark matter throughout the universe, even setting up in the cosmos the faintest of faint hums to mimic the reverberations of the initiating shot that is supposed to have set the whole shooting-match going.

This book questions many of our beliefs, so probably isn’t for those with a strong religious background, but anyone who is tolerant of religious satire will find a lot to enjoy. The above quote is a good example of the gentle humour in the book, so if you were offended by that, avoid it.

Nothing can be taken at face value in this book. At first it seems like a typical household, but it is soon revealed that it isn’t in our world, but in a similar, parallel universe in which there are subtle differences:

….the greater part of the world’s energy nowadays is converted from brine.

It is easy to miss these little oddities and I often found myself re-reading to check that I had read it correctly. There were several things that didn’t quite ring true, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I’m not going to admit what I looked up on wikipedia, but it is a very clever book that makes you question things you know to be true – so much that you are forced to look them up.

The main thing that let this book down was the lack of plot, but I also felt that many of the characters were not developed properly – they were more like objects in a bizarre world; there to serve a purpose in the weird narrative, rather than people to love and bond with. These were minor issues though, and I feel this is a much more accomplished work than The Sea (which won the Booker prize in 2005).




Have you read any of John Banville’s books?

Which is your favourite?

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  1. Priscilla says:

    I can’t wait for this to be released here…it sounds like something I would enjoy. I just finished reading The Sea a few weeks ago, and I absolutely loved it. I look forward to reading more of his work. I hope to read The Untouchable next. I also want to read his work as Benjamin Black (his pseudonym for crime fiction work).

    1. Jackie says:

      Priscilla, I have only read The Sea so far, but have a copy of Christina Falls here and hope to read it soon as I am interested in how his work differs under the Black name.

  2. Steph says:

    I haven’t read any John Banville, but when I saw this one at work, I really wanted to review it! I’m not going to, but I at least would like to read it (and review it on the blog) when it’s released over here.

    I do have a copy of The Sea that I picked up on the cheap but I haven’t read it. I think it’s going on the list that I’m currently working on of books that I would like to tackle this year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, It has been a while since I read The Sea, so don’t remember that much about it – I think I enjoyed it on the whole, but did have a few issues with it. I look forward to seeing what you think of both books.

  3. Lizzy Siddal says:


    It’s not eligible for Booker 2010. Eligibility runs from 1 October 2009 – 30 September 2010 and The Infinities was first published on 4.09.2009.

    Regardless I like the sound of it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lizzy, For some reason I thought entry was from 1st September. I’m very surprised that it wasn’t long listed last year then. It is a lot better than certain books I could name!!

  4. diane says:

    Oh Jackie….fabulous review. I have this one on my wish list. It comes out in Feb. here. So glad to hear you loved it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks Diane, You don’t have to wait very long then. I hope you enjoy it!

  5. The only Banville book I know of is The Sea. I hope to read it this year, but, going by some of the comments, I’m not expecting much. Glad you enjoyed this one. Might be a better place to start?

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, The Sea is a lot simpler and more conventional. I enjoyed this one more, but it could be confusing for some. I don’t think it really matters which one you start with. Enjoy whichever one you decide!

  6. Dorte H says:

    Well, I AM a Christian, but I have been created with a sense of humour, so I think this sounds hilarious: “planting in the rocks the fossils of outlandish creatures that never existed, distributing fake dark matter throughout the universe ….”

    God who created the elephant and the giraffe must certainly have a sense of humour himself :D

    1. Jackie says:

      Dorte, LOL! You’re right – there are a lot of very strange creatures out there!

  7. Kathleen says:

    Wonderful review. Based on the first selection that you highlighted, I’m quite sure I would enjoy the satire! Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ve not heard of the book or the author, sad to say! Sounds like it might not be available here in the US yet based on comments from others. I’ll be in London in May so maybe I will add it to my list of books to shop for while I am there!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, It is released in America on 23rd Feb, so you should be able to save space in your suitcase for plenty of other books only available in the UK!

  8. JoAnn says:

    I’ll certainly be reading this one! I loved The Sea, and also both books by his alter-ego Benjamin Black. Great review, Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I hope to read a Benjamin Black book soon, so it is good to hear that you enjoyed them. I hope you like this one.

  9. Karen says:

    Great timing that you had just posted about this when I was asking people about it on my blog! I think I will give this a go – not sure it’s for me or not but I would like to find out. I also wanted to let you know that I have left you an award over at my blog.

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, Thank you so much for thinking of me and leaving an award!

      I do think this is a great book, so the list on your blog is very intriguing now – I’ll have to get to the rest of them at some point.

  10. Sandy says:

    I would consider myself a religious person, but that excerpt is just funny! Very very clever. This would definitely NOT be one to listen to on audio I’m thinking. Great review Jackie!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, No, I don’t think this would make a good audio book. This book needs to be read slowly and needs a bit of re-reading to appreciate it. I’m pleased that you found my excerpt funny.

  11. Jenners says:

    This sounds very very interesting to me. I love books that are funny and religious … and my God is a playful God!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I don’t normally like any book with a religious theme, but enjoyed this one. I don’t know what that means for those who normally enjoy religious books!

  12. Alyce says:

    When done well I do enjoy a book that has some oddities in it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, I love odd books too!

  13. Stephanie says:

    I actually haven’t read any Banville, although I am planning on reading The Sea for the Booker challenge.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, The Sea is a very quick read. It does have some good sections, so I hope you enjoy it.

  14. Jenny says:

    I love it when writers have a sense of humor about God – this sounds strange and wonderful. I’ve been meaning to read John Banville anyway, and this sounds like a fantastic place to start.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, It is a weird place to start, but hopefully in a good way! I look forward to seing what you think of it.

  15. Jeanne says:

    I’ve never heard of this book or this author before, but now I’m intrigued!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, He has written quite a few books, so you have a nice list to look into – enjoy!

  16. Jo says:

    I’ve got The Sea here waiting to be read. I think I might have to read this first though. I’m always drawn to books that play with religion. And I think from the moment you wrote this was narrated by God I was going to read this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I hope that you enjoy reading it!

  17. cbjames says:

    I only know Mr. Banviller from his mystery novels. I’ve got The Sea in my TBR stack. Should I start there or wait for this one to come out in the U.S.?

  18. Jackie says:

    cbjames, I don’t think it really matters which one you start with. They are both very different books, but I think this one is better. The Sea is a more conventional book, so it depends which you like best – weird, or normal fiction!

  19. Ciara says:

    I don’t think I liked this book quite as much as you did. Although I do agree with your review I wouldn’t recommend it. What I would recommend, if you’re looking for a book that is similarly written is Saturday by Ian McEwan (but it’s much better)… and not because of my religious background. I could get past that part. The part that did bother me was the lack of character development.

    I listened to it on audio and while it was pretty good overall (and very interesting and different) I doubt I would’ve been able to finish it had I been reading it from the pages of an actual book.


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