The first sentence is beautiful:
A central conceit of the novel is that the story is narrated by the gods – the Greek gods. And so the musings of the mortals are interspersed in the sequence of events. An old scientist called Adam is on his deathbed, his mind drawing closer to the eternal perspective of the gods. He was a renowned mathematician / theoretical physicist whose abstract works have given rise to a whole new range of technologies. But this is only touched on lightly (too lightly IMHO). This world is far from sci-fi — it’s set in a Big House, with drawing rooms, lawns, servants and tweeds and cravats.
Banville – as usual – touches on elusive thoughts and aspects of humanity where contemporary fiction rarely ventures.
Between the motion
And the Act
Falls the shadow
as TS Eliot put it, and that’s the node Banville hacks away at. His prose is rich with ideas and allusions. The god’s eye view injects an intellectual playfulness into the novel.
A pied horse kicks up its hoofs as they pass by, gallops friskily a little way, stops and turns its head and looks back at them boldly, showing them its behind and flicking its tail from side to side.
This however doesn’t look much like a god’s eye view — with its sex / shame overtones this comes straight from John’s subconscious. I would have wished for more joy, light, and piercing insight in these gods. Something far beyond the human.
Reda the rest …
When old Adam recalls a visit to Rome he thinks of:
in all the rooms a worrying fecal smell, and the unseen below-stairs staff audibly at their larks.
When he visits Venice it’s engulfed in drizzle! And when he pours a glass of water – you guessed it – it’s cloudy. In the universe as represented by Banville, we can acquire all the mathematical skill we desire, marry a beautiful woman, read great poetry, travel to Venice, Athens, and Stockholm: but we can never escape the itchy tweed trousers and oniony armpits. Grimy facticity waits to drag us down into our itchy, smelly bodies.
The intensity of things in themselves on the other hand you might also call it.
So it’s like a challenge, to enjoy the thrill of Banville’s dancing thoughts as he seems simultaneously hell-bent on sticking the reader’s nose in the toilet bowl.
But for all that, it’s intensely fascinating and well worth the moments of god-like exhilaration, or the calm tableaux settings. This is a very visual novel. At times the feeling of reading it is more like watching a large and complex painting. There are things depicted which you feel must have significance: a small boy staring out from a train window, a clock face reflecting the dawn sun, a plucked chicken on a bench, bare stairs leading out of the frame, a man with a battered suitcase mopping his face with a hanky.
It’s definitely a work I’ll read again, and read new meaning into it.