cover image The Singularities

The Singularities

John Banville. Knopf, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-65517-6

Booker winner Banville (The Sea) revisits characters and themes from his past works in this artful and atmospheric story of redemption. Recently released from prison, a murderer now calling himself Felix Mordaunt returns to Arden House, the estate of his childhood, which is inhabited by the family of Adam Godley, the legendary scientist behind the cosmic Brahma theory. Soon, Mordaunt infiltrates the lives of the late genius’s son and daughter-in-law and their amorous housekeeper by working as their driver and servant. But Mordaunt is not the only stranger on the premises nursing ulterior motives; he is soon joined by the nefarious William Jaybey, whose own scientific work was scorned and life destroyed by the elder Godley, and has come to write a biography of his fallen arch-foe. With penetrating psychological insight, Banville tracks the private struggles of these mismatched trespassers as they compete for the favor of their hosts and slowly uncover each other’s secrets. Though short on plot, the book boasts some of Banville’s greatest prose. Here’s a surprising and apt swerve in Mordaunt’s memory of coming across a cuckoo as a boy, “aware the two of them of being caught in a somehow compromising situation... like a gentleman and his valet brought face-to-face by ill-chance in the front parlour of a back-street brothel.” Overall, it’s a fine addition to a brilliant body of work. (Oct.)