John Banville, the author of fourteen previous novels, has been
the recipient of the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black
Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Award, and a Lannan
Literary Award for Fiction. He lives in Dublin.
1. Why has John Banville chosen The Infinities as his
title? In what ways is the novel about time and timelessness?
2. Many novels have been written about illness and death in a
family. What makes The Infinities' treatment of this
situation so innovative? What truths about family life does the
3. The Infinities takes off from an imaginatively
daring premise-not that the Greek gods have returned to intervene
in human affairs, but that they never left. How does Banville
manage to make this premise believable and enjoyable?
4. Hermes observes: "I listened to the medleyed buzz that summer
makes, and thought how tentative these humans are, how they grope
and fumble among their motives, hiding their desires, their hopes
and trepidations from each other and themselves, perennial children
that they are" (pp. 78-79). In what ways is this observation
true of the characters in the novel? Is it an accurate assessment
of how humans generally behave?
5. What draws the gods to the human world? How do they regard
the predicaments of their earthly creations?
6. Death is an agonizing prospect for humans, but for the gods
just the opposite is true-they are haunted by their deathlessness.
What tensions are created in the novel through these opposing
perspectives? What does the novel as a whole seem to say about
7. Rex the dog feels that humans "are afraid of something,
something that is always there though they pretend it is
not. . . . And when they weep, their sobs and
lamentations are disproportionate, as though what is supposed to
have upset them is just a pretext and their anguish springs really
from this other frightful thing that they know and are trying to
ignore" (p. 181). What is this frightful thing? Why would
Banville choose to view this mystery from Rex's perspective?
8. Do the gods create tensions among the humans gathered at the
Godleys' house or simply manipulate tensions that are already
9. The elder Adam ruminates about love and thinks that "to love
properly and in earnest one would have to do it anonymously or at
least in an undeclared fashion, so as not to seem to ask anything
in return, since asking and getting are the antithesis of love"
(p. 209). What unacknowledged irony is present in this
10. How does the arrival of Pan, in the form of Benny Grace,
complicate the plot of the novel?
11. Near the end of the novel, Hermes observes: "This is the
mortal world. It is a world where nothing is lost, where all is
accounted for while yet the mystery of things is preserved; a world
where they may live, however briefly, however tenuously, in the
failing evening of the self, solitary and at the same time together
somehow here in this place, dying as they may be and yet fixed
forever in a luminous, unending instant" (p. 272). What is it
that lifts this passage toward the register of great poetry? How
can its apparent contradictions-solitary and together, dying and
yet forever fixed, unending and instant-be understood?
12. The Infinities is a mostly comic novel. What are
its most humorous scenes? What are some of its more poignant
13. Adam's scientific work centers around time and the
interpenetration of multiple worlds. How does the novel itself
explore the idea of time and the overlapping of different
14. Why does Banville choose to end The Infinities with
Hermes intimating to Adam that his wife Helen is "with child"? In
what ways is this a satisfying and fitting ending to the
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