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“The Infinities” (2009) by John Banville and Other Books.

For some reason there seems to be a theme running through contemporary Irish Literature which involves people getting together because there has been, or there is about to be a death in the family.


First came Colm Toibin’s masterpiece “The Black Water Lightship”, which addresses head on but in a subtle way the difficulties facing gay men in Ireland, and now we have John Banville’s “The Infinities” and Anne Enwright’s Booker winner “The Gathering”.


I have written about Toibin’s book elsewhere, and he continues to be the benchmark author of this century, picking up the baton from Kazuo Ishiguro due to the simplicity of the language which showcases simply magnificent story telling.


One avenue not explored by Toibin is that of magical realism which would loosely describe Banville’s book due to the presence of Greek Gods who observe and occasionally interact with the characters, and odd snippets which inform us that Mary Queen of Scots had reigned instead of Good Queen Bess, and that power is provided by cold combustion.


The book has an inter war feel to it due to the presence of steam trains, and there is just something about the characters that place them there even though we are told nothing about time except that the action takes place over one day.


Big existential questions abound but there is plenty of humour and an undercurrent of slightly sordid lust abroad, especially from the Gods who observe and comment on human behaviour from the point of view of outsiders whilst having strong feelings for them.


Old Adam is dying and as his family gather we are party to their odd ball past and present, he has a weird relationship with his much younger wife, and his daughter is a recluse who self harms.


I’m a bit wary of blokes writing about woman’s issues (Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby both produced stinkers from this perspective) but here Banville treats the subject matter with sensitivity but at the same time shocking the reader with the thoughts and emotions present.


It is a very strange book but I enjoyed reading it and the weirdness complements the narrative rather than driving it.


Enright’s book is a major disappointment and her obsession with genitals is just plain bizarre. Freud would have had a field day, except that he stated that the Irish are “immune” to psychoanalysis.


The premise here is promising as it deals with the suicide of the protagonist’s brother and her attempt to make sense of it for herself and her large family. Given my history, excellent material.


But this book is just plain boring, the characters are cardboard cut out and frankly my dear, I didn’t give a damn about any man jack of them.


I really feel for the Booker Committee when you read something like this. They MUST be tempted to give up, or read a précis on t’internet when faced with such dross?


I read some author describing a book as “having written itself” due to the strong nature of the story and the characters contained within it. Like an out of body experience where they were just the conduit rather than the author.


This is what must have happened to Lionel Shriver when she penned the magnificent “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, which deals with the issues of a mother surrounding the all too familiar tale of a school shooting in the USA. The analysis of family interactions was pure genius as we see the dysfunctional view of the world propagated by a Mother onto her son. Her own extreme insecurities seared into her offspring with tragic results from all concerned.


Shiver was deservedly lauded for this work, but alarm bells started to ring when she joined the Guardian as a weekly G2 contributor.


One article revolved around her angst as a 49 year old that kept being mistaken for a teenager. How narcissistic can you get? Sorry Lionel old thing, but as the registered blind person that I am, this ain’t going to be a mistake I’m ever likely to make.


“The Post Birthday World” is full of Mickey Mouse musing masquerading as philosophical insight. A rich, bored housewife decides to have a fling with a risqué snooker player. Or does she? Shriver opts for the yawn worthy Sliding Doors what if angle and it ends up as a tedious tangled mess, and despite being housebound for the last month I couldn’t face another page past 120, as her almost anal attention to what as an American must be fascinating angles of English life, left me losing the will to live.


“Stasiland” is a magnificent and above all readable account of life in the GDR as told to journalist Anna Funder by the people who lived it, from the progandist TV presenter to the cruel victim of a rape we hear how the State poked it’s nose into every facet of life, and goes well as a complement to the shockingly brilliant film “The Lives of Others”.


Food for thought for us Brits, the most watched society in the World. 


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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