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De onsterfelijken by John Banville
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De onsterfelijken (original 2009; edition 2010)

by John Banville, Arie Storm

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6173715,790 (3.53)41
Member:Honisoitquimalypense
Title:De onsterfelijken
Authors:John Banville
Other authors:Arie Storm
Info:Amsterdam Meulenhoff cop. 2010
Collections:Your library
Rating:**
Tags:2012

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The Infinities by John Banville (2009)

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» See also 41 mentions

English (28)  Catalan (5)  Dutch (4)  Italian (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This novel unfolds in the form of a classical drama -- a single day spent by a family in the house of their dying father, a mathematician. And like a good classical drama, it also has some mischievous gods wandering around interfering in the lives of the mortals, including Zeus, Hermes and Pan. The story extremely loosely follows Amphitryon.

The writing is beautiful, it is filled with moments that are both poignant and funny, and the entire novel is disorienting -- it is largely realistic but in addition to the gods there are the occasional throwaway lines that make it clear the setting is somewhat different than we imagine -- e.g., Wallace's theory of evolution recently disproven, Einstein's theory of relativity recently disproven, and the modern train is a steam engine straight out of the mid-19th century. These odd throwaways are never explained.

The 3-/12 stars, however, are because reading the book went from a delight to a slog. Although in theory it had a classical unity, it seemed somewhat random with one characters thoughts or perspectives following right after the other, with no clear forward momentum, greater depth of explanation, or resolution. Which was disappointing because the premise was so promising and appealing. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Superbly written but slight. Often felt as if I was not getting the joke. At places much too introspective and windy, like a short story that's been stretched too far. ( )
  drudmann | Apr 6, 2014 |
That was a very interesting reading. It's something like the old Greek mythology but put into nowadays. The patriarch had a stroke and is dying. He isn't able to speak anymore and he won't contact his family or his visitor with his eyes, but he thinks, or is he dreaming, that he can fully understand everybody and knows what is going on in his house. All family members and two strangers are returning home. Each of them has their own problems which are related to each other or which are in use from no person other than the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. Hermes is the narrator of this story and takes only small influence in this plot whereas his father Zeus, like in the old Greek mythology, is begetting a child with one of the characters. During this story everybody is telling his view of the relationship to each other and that he is searching for sympathy from the others. Sometimes I've got the feeling that everybody is very self-seeking and that there isn't much empathy for others. ( )
  Ameise1 | Mar 22, 2014 |
Classic Banville, this time with Ancient Gods thrown in for good measure. The usual themes of love, death and tenuousness, but somewhat lighter than times past. Plot line as faint or fainter than ever. ( )
  mabroms | Sep 3, 2013 |
I think I read this too fast, by which I mean, I am sad the reading of this book is finished. Banville is in a category and class all of his own. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Apr 10, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
If “The Infinities” has the bones of a novel of ideas, it’s fleshed out and robed as a novel of sensibility and style. Its drapery is velvet and brocade — sumptuous and at times over-heavy.
 
Banville brings us the gods in as many forms as the ancients saw them. They behave badly, as they do in Homer, and as Plato so regretted; but then, they are familiar with perfect ideas that humans can grope for while they live, but can only know either before they are born, or as they die, as Plato explained. ... In Banville’s hands, ancient civilisation has become another realm in which all permutations are possible.
 

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Schuenke, ChristaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Of the things we fashioned for them that they might be comforted, dawn is the one that works.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307272796, Hardcover)

A Q&A with Author John Banville

Question: Where did you get the idea to use Greek gods as characters in a novel? And then how did you settle on the ones we meet in The Infinities?

John Banville: I have always been an admirer of the great German dramatist Heinrich von Kleist, particularly the play I consider his masterpiece, Amphitryon, which I adapted for the Irish stage. In this wonderful tragi-comedy Jupiter falls for Alcmene, wife of the Theban general Amphitryon, and comes to earth with his son and sidekick Mercury, to spend a heavenly night with the lady; the next morning Amphitryon returns unexpectedly from the wars, precipitating an intricate comedy of errors. Originally I intended to base The Infinities quite closely on Amphitryon, but fiction has its own laws and its own demands, and the finished novel is an autonymous creature, though the Kleist is still there in skeletal form.

Question: Why did you decide to make Adam Godley a mathematician?

John Banville: I don’t know that I ever actively decided to make him anything."Decisions" in the writing of fiction tend to be mostly a matter of dream and drift. But I wanted him to be someone operating in an otherworld of speculation, pure number, and infinitudes, where the gods might be already at play.

Question: There is something so classical and familiar about the death bed scene, the family patriarch dying and the family coming from far and wide to gather at his bedside. What about the death bed construct appealed to you as a starting off point?

John Banville: Again, I didn’t think of the book as centering on a death bed scene--and I don’t think it does, really--but of course fiction is a tired old business where there is nothing new under even the intensest sun. In fact, one of the pleasures of working in the novel form is the challenge of finding new ways to present old things. Spinoza says somewhere that the wise man thinks only of death but all his thoughts will thereby be a contemplation of life. I hope that’s the case with The Infinities, and that everything in it is vividly alive, even the dying old man upstairs.

Question: Many readers have commented on the humor in this novel. Is it harder for you to write comedy or tragedy (which you have certainly done in previous novels)?

John Banville: All my books are funny, if you know how to listen for the jokes. The novel, at a certain basic level, is a comic form. Do you know the story of Kafka reading to a group of friends from The Trial, and laughing so much he could not get past the first page? Kafka is a great realist--indeed, one of the greatest--and reality is always funny, though the fun is often steeped in pathos.

Question: This novel takes place over the course of a single day. Why did you decide on that time structure?

John Banville: I was following Amphitryon in this--preserving the unities, as the Aristotelians say. There is a nice compactness to the time-scale in the book, which I like. Also the fact of limiting the action to a single day makes for a mysterious sweet melancholy. Everyone has days that will live in the memory for a lifetime; for my characters, that Midsummer Day is one.

Question: So Hermes is our narrator (though, of course, John Banville is really our narrator). So author as messenger? Author as God? Or is that just reading too much into it?

John Banville: Well, of course, in the little world of a novel the author is a god, or at least a demigod, watching over his creatures, helping them, if he can, or at least not hindering them. In a wider sense, I find the pagan world of the Greeks highly appealing, and wish we could regain their state of innocence and sophistication. Bring back the old gods, I say.

(Photo © Jerry Bauer)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:19 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

On a languid midsummer's day in the countryside, old Adam Godley, a renowned theoretical mathematician lies dying. Gathered around him are his family: Adam, his son; Adam's wife; Petra, his daughter; his wife Ursula, stepmother to his children; and his daughter's young man. But the Godley family is not alone in their vigil. Around them hovers a family of mischievious immortals who begin to sir up trouble to sometimes wildly unintended effect.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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