Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Kepler is the second volume in a loosely connected tetralogy of novels which dramatize the nature of creativity. The first volume was devoted to the astronomer Copernicus (Doctor Copernicus, 1976) and also followed a basically biographical approach. Subsequent volumes, however (The Newton Letter, 1982, and Mefisto, 1986), have challenged or made problematic that approach, and while confining themselves to the area of scientific creativity that is, with creativity which affects man’s view of his world, rather than his view of himself they have avoided being typecast as fictionalized chapters from the history of astronomy.

Banville’s tetralogy has a number of noteworthy features, among the most obvious of which is its ambition. To sustain a sense of such an elusive, and perhaps mystical, subject as creativity over an extremely wide time span (Mefisto is set in the twentieth century) is achievement enough. To convey that sense in a manner which changes from volume to volume and from age to age, as Banville does over the course of the tetralogy, has the effect of demonstrating an inevitable interdependence between unity and diversity. This central preoccupation enables Banville to sketch other, more weighty but less artistically amenable, concerns, such as the epistemological implications of existentialist philosophy.

Coincidentally, by means of the tetralogy, Banville has participated in the recent...

(The entire section is 443 words.)