The Infinities

Colin Burrow writes:

There’s a revealing slip near the start of John Banville’s new novel. UrsThe Infinities, one of Banville’s most ambitious books, is recognisably both a summa of his earlier interests and a departure. It’s set in an alternative universe, one which brings the Greek – or, as we say, ‘Olympian’ – perspective of his narrators explicitly into view: here, Greek gods wander among mortals and observe their griefs, loves and failures. There’s a Hermes, a Zeus and a Pan, all of whom drift around the house of a mathematician called Adam Godley, who lies dying. Godley (yes, the names in The Infinities carry a bit too much weight) has made a string of mathematical discoveries which established the existence of infinite possible worlds and of temporal discrepancies between them. With the assistance of a character called Benny Grace (whom the narrator identifies as the god Pan: he has goatish feet and a tendency to spread panic – and indeed, repeatedly, the word ‘panic’ – around him), Godley has discovered chronotrons. This discovery has led to the overthrow of quantum physics and relativity, and opened a window onto the other world which the Olympians inhabit: ‘An infinity of infinities … all crossing and breaking into each other, all here and invisible, a complex of worlds beyond what anyone before him had imagined ever was there.’

(LRB 11 March 2010)

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