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John Banville: a master at work

February 25, 2010 |  9:24 am
Johnbanville_2005

It's been almost five years since John Banville won the Booker Prize for his novel "The Sea," and in that time he's published two crime novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Now he's back, as Banville, with "The Infinities," a "dazzling example of [his] mastery, as well as of the formal daring and slyly erudite humor that make his novels among the most rewarding available to readers today." That's our reviewer Tim Rutten, who writes:

[I]t's clear that the ambiguous ground between quantitative certainty and aesthetic assertion preoccupies this writer in a particular way. The formal structure of his new novel is the key to its narrative exposition. Banville evokes and simultaneously subverts the classical unities -- all the action takes place in a single day; there is progress from light into darkness. Indeed, the first and most obvious of the narrative conceits is that the old, Homeric gods are once more alive and the storytelling voice is that of Hermes....

In an interview with the Millions, Banville cautioned that the book's math should not be taken too seriously. "The science is just what we call cod science here. It’s fake. And the book is not really concerned with quantum physics and those things, which is very frightening for all of us. It’s a human comedy." In the interview answering a question about the play "Amphitryon" by Heinrich von Kleist that is touched on in this and other works by Banville, he explains:

I constantly say one of my absolute mottos is from Kafka, where he says the artist is the man who has nothing to say. I have nothing to say. I have no opinions about anything. I don’t care about physical, moral, social issues of the day. I just want to recreate the sense of what life feels like, what it tastes like, what it smells like. That’s what art should do. I feel it should be absolutely gloriously useless.

Read Tim Rutten's complete review of Banville's latest glorious uselessness here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Banville with his Booker Prize-winning novel "The Sea" in 2005. Credit: Kieran Doherty / Reuters

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