Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell

I listened to this book because it came up so many times on the the ‘Best of ‘ lists and seemed to be everywhere at one point although I didn’t read it because the content was not really of particular interest to me.

However, having listened the whole way through, I have to say that I loved the way this book was written if not always totally enamoured with the poet John Donne and his works.

What Rundell does do well is to link certain aspects of his life – his continual search for money and ways to earn a living, the fact that he was often ill especially as he got older and was in pain and his relentless writing of poetry and letters. He didn’t write to be published, that didn’t happen until after his death, but wrote to express himself to others. People received letters with the poems in and he often wrote poetry for women he was flirting with. And in Rundell’s opinion wrote some of the great sex and love poetry.

John Donne by unknown artist from the National Portrait Gallery

I was pleased that Rundell included Donne’s wife in the book. She bore him 12 children, not all surviving, and in the end it killed her and he never married again. She does an excellent job of showing the man moving from poetry to sermons but never really describes how he got or developed his faith. Did it get stronger as he got older? Was it always there? Did something happen that enabled his faith to develop? Was he just doing it for the money? The book is a little coy in this area unlike all the other facets of his life and feels like a love letter to Donne.

I really enjoyed the snippets of poetry and in fact might have liked a little more. They were used well to illuminate and to explore or critique and I thought Rundell was more than equal to Donne with the word-play and sentences that leaped and tumbled whilst describing his life. It isn’t written in an academic way, more an accessible and joyful way that means you can’t help liking Donne and sympathising with him at times.

I have read several of Rundell’s book’s for children – The Wolf Wilder, Rooftoppers and The Explorer – but none of them reach the heights this book reaches. They are all OK, this book is incredible. Even the title is compelling. Super because it is a prefix Donne used a lot and Infinite because he was obsessed with infinity or infiniteness as in Lover’s Infiniteness and death.

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