John Banville won many prizes and notably the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for "The Sea ", and is rightfully recognized as the most gifted Irish writer of his generation mainly for his extraordinary style at once poetic , lyrical and acerbic ,verging on black humor as well as an aching sense of loss. All these attributes appear in his latest book, but a mythological aspect is added to the story: the Greek gods are watching the action with an ironic eye. It could have been a ridiculous novelistic device but it is not; it is very entertaining indeed .
The narrator is Hermes, the God of communication, who comments on the characters and takes pity on them while his Dad, Zeus,is pursuing the beautiful and sexy broad, aptly called Helen, making a fool of himself and of her . The tragic aspect of the tale is thus craftily hidden and Banville tells one long day in the life of the family of Adam Godley, a famed scientist who invented an awesome theory of Infinities at one time. Old Adam is dying and lies in state in the" Sky room "of his dilapidated country house , in a gloomy obscurity ; the reader is made to listen to all the interior monologues of every family member , including the dying patriarch. Virginia Woolf's splendid " Mrs Dalloway" comes to mind immediately with its subtle psychology and variegated style of many strata comprising dreams, projections, reminiscences,fears , caustic self mockery, even schizoid fantasies .Banville uses the same wonderful technique successfully here , but his book is not solar as Woolf's is .his characters are suffering and are unhappy except the housekeeper and her aged lover; there is no happy and royal Mrs Dalloway here to console us and bring the novel to an apotheosis . Hermes feels righfully sorry for us , poor mortals.
The mental patient in the family, Petra , the daughter of the hero is self destructive and destined to die early, his wife is an elf, the son is an oaf, the daughter in law an obnoxious seductress,the guests are a vain pseudo journalist and a fraudulent financial advisor.. even the great Tolstoyan patriarch himself is a pathetic has been. Yet, the tale is fascinating, full of human foibles and great moments of poetic truths which make this day memorable.The surveying gods are much less interesting than humans because they lack these mortal failings : the capacity to suffer and also to die. We see with Hermes that death is viewed as an advantage , since it ends the dreadful comedy finally ,a but our life is neither boring nor monotonous as the God's routine is. Poor Gods, and poor humans ; thank God for good writers.
This is an excellent novel with an unexpected end: the dying man comes back to consciousness and is brought forth in front of an open window, looking on the lovely sunny countryside.