The Sea

The Sea

by John Banville


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In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel — among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400097029
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/15/2006
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 105,351
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. The author of thirteen previous novels, he has been the recipient of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, and a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. He lives in Dublin.

Read an Excerpt

IThey departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue and malignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves were depositing a fringe of soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no, not ever again.Someone has just walked over my grave. Someone. The name of the house is the Cedars, as of old. A bristling clump of those trees, monkey-brown with a tarry reek, their trunks nightmarishly tangled, still grows at the left side, facing across an untidy lawn to the big curved window of what used to be the living room but which Miss Vavasour prefers to call, in landladyese, the lounge. The front door is at the opposite side, opening on to a square of oil-stained gravel behind the iron gate that is still painted green, though rust has reduced its struts to a tremulous filigree. I am amazed at how little has changed in the more than fifty years that have gone by since I was last here. Amazed, and disappointed, I would go so far as to say appalled, for reasons that are obscure to me, since why should I desire change, I who have come back to live amidst the rubble of the past? I wonder why the house was built like that, sideways-on, turning a pebble-dashed windowless white end-wall to the road; perhaps in former times, before the railway, the road ran in a different orientation altogether, passing directly in front of the front door, anything is possible. Miss V. is vague on dates but thinks a cottage was first put up here early in the last century, I mean the century before last, I am losing track of the millennia, and then was added on to haphazardly over the years. That would account for the jumbled look of the place, with small rooms giving on to bigger ones, and windows facing blank walls, and low ceilings throughout. The pitchpine floors sound a nautical note, as does my spindle-backed swivel chair. I imagine an old seafarer dozing by the fire, landlubbered at last, and the winter gale rattling the window frames. Oh, to be him. To have been him.When I was here all those years ago, in the time of the gods, the Cedars was a summer house, for rent by the fortnight or the month. During all of June each year a rich doctor and his large, raucous family infested it—we did not like the doctor’s loud-voiced children, they laughed at us and threw stones from behind the unbreachable barrier of the gate—and after them a mysterious middle-aged couple came, who spoke to no one, and grimly walked their sausage dog in silence at the same time every morning down Station Road to the strand. August was the most interesting month at the Cedars, for us. The tenants then were different each year, people from England or the Continent, the odd pair of honeymooners whom we would try to spy on, and once even a fit-up troupe of itinerant theatre people who were putting on an afternoon show in the village’s galvanised-tin cinema. And then, that year, came the family Grace.The first thing I saw of them was their motor car, parked on the gravel inside the gate. It was a low-slung, scarred and battered black model with beige leather seats and a big spoked polished wood steering wheel. Books with bleached and dog-eared covers were thrown carelessly on the shelf under the sportily raked back window, and there was a touring map of France, much used. The front door of the house stood wide open, and I could hear voices inside, downstairs, and from upstairs the sound of bare feet running on floorboards and a girl laughing. I had paused by the gate, frankly eavesdropping, and now suddenly a man with a drink in his hand came out of the house. He was short and top-heavy, all shoulders and chest and big round head, with close-cut, crinkled, glittering-black hair with flecks of premature grey in it and a pointed black beard likewise flecked. He wore a loose green shirt unbuttoned and khaki shorts and was barefoot. His skin was so deeply tanned by the sun it had a purplish sheen. Even his feet, I noticed, were brown on the insteps; the majority of fathers in my experience were fish-belly white below the collar-line. He set his tumbler—ice-blue gin and ice cubes and a lemon slice—at a perilous angle on the roof of the car and opened the passenger door and leaned inside to rummage for something under the dashboard. In the unseen upstairs of the house the girl laughed again and gave a wild, warbling cry of mock-panic, and again there was the sound of scampering feet. They were playing chase, she and the voiceless other. The man straightened and took his glass of gin from the roof and slammed the car door. Whatever it was he had been searching for he had not found. As he turned back to the house his eye caught mine and he winked. He did not do it in the way that adults usually did, at once arch and ingratiating. No, this was a comradely, a conspiratorial wink, masonic, almost, as if this moment that we, two strangers, adult and boy, had shared, although outwardly without significance, without content, even, nevertheless had meaning. His eyes were an extraordinary pale transparent shade of blue. He went back inside then, already talking before he was through the door. “Damned thing,” he said, “seems to be . . .” and was gone. I lingered a moment, scanning the upstairs windows. No face appeared there.That, then, was my first encounter with the Graces: the girl’s voice coming down from on high, the running footsteps, and the man here below with the blue eyes giving me that wink, jaunty, intimate and faintly satanic.Just now I caught myself at it again, that thin, wintry whistling through the front teeth that I have begun to do recently. Deedle deedle deedle, it goes, like a dentist’s drill. My father used to whistle like that, am I turning into him? In the room across the corridor Colonel Blunden is playing the wireless. He favours the afternoon talk programmes, the ones in which irate members of the public call up to complain about villainous politicians and the price of drink and other perennial irritants. “Company,” he says shortly, and clears his throat, looking a little abashed, his protuberant, parboiled eyes avoiding mine, even though I have issued no challenge. Does he lie on the bed while he listens? Hard to picture him there in his thick grey woollen socks, twiddling his toes, his tie off and shirt collar agape and hands clasped behind that stringy old neck of his. Out of his room he is vertical man itself, from the soles of his much-mended glossy brown brogues to the tip of his conical skull. He has his hair cut every Saturday morning by the village barber, short-back-and-sides, no quarter given, only a hawkish stiff grey crest left on top. His long-lobed leathery ears stick out, they look as if they had been dried and smoked; the whites of his eyes too have a smoky yellow tinge. I can hear the buzz of voices on his wireless but cannot make out what they say. I may go mad here. Deedle deedle. Later that day, the day the Graces came, or the following one, or the one following that, I saw the black car again, recognised it at once as it went bounding over the little humpbacked bridge that spanned the railway line. It is still there, that bridge, just beyond the station. Yes, things endure, while the living lapse. The car was heading out of the village in the direction of the town, I shall call it Ballymore, a dozen miles away. The town is Ballymore, this village is Ballyless, ridiculously, perhaps, but I do not care. The man with the beard who had winked at me was at the wheel, saying something and laughing, his head thrown back. Beside him a woman sat with an elbow out of the rolled-down window, her head back too, pale hair shaking in the gusts from the window, but she was not laughing only smiling, that smile she reserved for him, sceptical, tolerant, languidly amused. She wore a white blouse and sunglasses with white plastic rims and was smoking a cigarette. Where am I, lurking in what place of vantage? I do not see myself. They were gone in a moment, the car’s sashaying back-end scooting around a bend in the road with a spurt of exhaust smoke. Tall grasses in the ditch, blond like the woman’s hair, shivered briefly and returned to their former dreaming stillness.I walked down Station Road in the sunlit emptiness of afternoon. The beach at the foot of the hill was a fawn shimmer under indigo. At the seaside all is narrow horizontals, the world reduced to a few long straight lines pressed between earth and sky. I approached the Cedars circumspectly. How is it that in childhood everything new that caught my interest had an aura of the uncanny, since according to all the authorities the uncanny is not some new thing but a thing known returning in a different form, become a revenant? So many unanswerables, this the least of them. As I approached I heard a regular rusty screeching sound. A boy of my age was draped on the green gate, his arms hanging limply down from the top bar, propelling himself with one foot slowly back and forth in a quarter circle over the gravel. He had the same straw-pale hair as the woman in the car and the man’s unmistakable azure eyes. As I walked slowly past, and indeed I may even have paused, or faltered, rather, he stuck the toe of his plimsoll into the gravel to stop the swinging gate and looked at me with an expression of hostile enquiry. It was the way we all looked at each other, we children, on first encounter. Behind him I could see all the way down the narrow garden at the back of the house to the diagonal row of trees skirting the railway line—they are gone now, those trees, cut down to make way for a row of pastel-coloured bungalows like dolls’ houses—and beyond, even, inland, to where the fields rose and there were cows, and tiny bright bursts of yellow that were gorse bushes, and a solitary distant spire, and then the sky, with scrolled white clouds. Suddenly, startlingly, the boy pulled a grotesque face at me, crossing his eyes and letting his tongue loll on his lower lip. I walked on, conscious of his mocking eye following me.

Reading Group Guide

Man Booker Prize Winner

“A piece of violent poetry—an autumnal, elegiac novel whose desolate story is carried along by the sweet and stormy tides of its . . . magnificent prose. . . . Treacherously smart and haunting.” —The Boston Globe

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of John Banville’s The Sea, winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

1. The Sea is made up of three temporal layers: the distant past of Max’s childhood, the recent past of his wife’s illness and death, and the present of his return to Ballyless. Instead of keeping these layers distinctly separated, Banville segues among them or splices them together, sometimes within a single sentence. Why might he have chosen to do this, and what methods does he use to keep the reader oriented in his novel’s time scheme?

2. Morden frequently refers to the Graces as gods, and of course the original Graces were figures in classical mythology. What about these people makes them godlike? Does each of them possess some attribute that corresponds, for instance, to Zeus’s thunderbolt or Athena’s wisdom? What distinguishes the Graces from Max’s own unhappily human family? Are they still godlike at the novel’s end?

3. When Max first encounters the Graces, he hears from the upstairs of their house the sound of a girl laughing while being chased. What other scenes in the book feature chases, some playful, some not? Is Morden being chased? Or is he a pursuer? If so, who or what might he be pursuing?

4. Morden is disappointed, even “appalled” [p. 4], to find the Cedars physically unchanged from what it was when the Graces stayed there. Yet he is also disappointed that it contains no trace of its former occupants [p. 29]. What might explain his ambivalence? Has he come to Ballyless to relive his past or to be free of it? Given the shame and sadness that suffuses so much of his memory, how is one to interpret his sense of the past as a retreat [pp. 44–45]?

5. “How is it,” Max wonders, “that in childhood everything new that caught my interest had an aura of the uncanny, since according to all the authorities the uncanny is not some new thing but a thing known returning in a different form, a revenant?” [p. 8]. What might account for this sense of déjà vu? What episodes in this novel seem to echo earlier ones, and are there moments when the past seems to echo the future, as if time were running backward? In this light, consider Max’s realization that his childhood visions of the future had “an oddly antique cast” [p. 70], as if “what I foresaw as the future was in fact . . . a picture of what could only be an imagined past” [p. 71].

6. How does Banville depict the other characters in this novel? To what extent are they, as Max suggests, partial constructs, as Connie Grace was “at once a wraith of my imagination and a woman of unavoidable flesh and blood” [p. 65]? Does Max’s voice, wry, self-reflexive, and resplendently vivid, give these characters an independent life or partially obscure them? Are there moments when they seem to peek out from beneath its blanket and show themselves to the reader?

7. Throughout the novel Max suffers from an overpowering, all-pervasive sense of guilt. Is this guilt justified? What are his crimes, or using another moral language, his sins? Has he managed to atone for any of his failures or redeem any of his spoiled relationships by the novel’s end? Is such redemption possible in this novel’s view of human nature?

8. On learning that she is fatally ill, both Max and Anna are overcome by something he recognizes as embarrassment, an embarrassment that extends even to the inanimate objects in their home. Why should death be embarrassing? Compare the grown Max’s shame about death to his childhood feelings about sex, both his sexual fantasies about Connie Grace and their subsequent fulfillment with her daughter.

9. Significantly, Max’s fantasies about Mrs. Grace reach a crescendo during an act of voyeurism. What role does watching play in Max’s sense of others? Has observing people been his substitute for engaging with them? How does he feel about other people watching him? And what are we to make of the fact that Max is constantly watching himself—sometimes watching himself watching others, in an infinite regress of surveillance and alienation?

10. Max is a poor boy drawn to a succession of wealthy women, culminating in his very wealthy wife. Was his attraction to them really a screen for social climbing? In loving Connie and Chloe and Anna, was he betraying his origins? Are there moments in this novel when those origins reassert themselves?

11. Why might Max have chosen the painter Bonnard as the subject for a book? What episodes from the painter’s life parallel his own or illuminate it metaphorically? Note the way the description of the Graces’ picnic recalls Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. What other scenes in the novel allude to works of art or literature, and what is the effect?

12. The Sea has a triple climax that features two deaths and very nearly a third. In what ways are these deaths linked, and to what extent is Max responsible for them? Do you interpret his drunken night walk on the beach as an attempt at suicide? How does your perception of Max change in light of Miss Vavasour’s climactic revelation about the events that precipitated Chloe’s drowning?

13. Just as the critical trauma of Max’s life grew out of a misapprehension, so the entire novel is shrouded in a haze of unreliable narrative. Max’s memories are at once fanatically detailed and riddled with lapses. He freely admits that the people in his past are half real and half made up. “From earliest days I wanted to be someone else,” he tells us [p. 160], and a chance remark of his mother’s suggests that even his name may be false [p. 156]. Can we accept any part of his account as true? Are there moments in this novel in which reality asserts itself absolutely? What effect do these ambiguities have on your experience of The Sea?

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The Sea 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the third book of Banville's I have read and I will never read another. His characters are consistently depressing and world-loathing, his story lines and plots are very lightweight although he seems to enjoys creating an over emphasis on sounds, tastes, smells and most everyting else that has no true relevance to the story itself. He has a certain proclivity to overwriting simple scenes and thoughts to needlessly elongated, tedious pages of overblown prose. He also has a certain fetish for throwing in arcane and little used words every page or two, perhaps to demonstrate the range of his thesaurus. Regardless, he has somehow gained a reputation that is considerably larger and better than his writing in anyway deserves. Pass on this and you won't resent the loss of money you spent on this small, insignicant book
harstan More than 1 year ago
Middle aged Irishman Max Morden mourns deeply the loss of his wife Anna. Needing to escape the overwhelming memories and though fifty years have passed since he has been there, Max retreats to the Cedars, a house that was the summer home of the Graces, who strongly influenced him when he was a child. He takes a room there hiding from his normal now dispirited life. --- Max thinks back to that summer when the affluent Graces vacationed at the Cedars. They ¿adopted¿ him as their personal waif for those glorious months. Though the parents, the authoritative father and the real family ruler the mother treated him nicely, the twin daughters Chloe and Myles were his connection. He compares that time with the lingering illness until death do us part of his spouse and his daughter Claire. Worried about her dad, Claire tries to help Max overcome his depression but he wants to sink deeper into the past when death was something adults dealt with and youngsters like him blithely played all day without a care in the world. --- THE SEA runs fathoms deep as the audience obtains a remarkable character study that focuses on an individual who in spite of expecting the Grim Reaper to call cannot cope when the visit occurs. Max is morbid and melancholy as he mourns his loss and cannot cope with it while his daughter can readily see his angst but has no concept on how to return her dad to the living. Readers will sympathize with Max, but wonder whether the past will engulf his present and future or will he realize those idyllic days had woes too that his memories chose to discriminately ignore. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a book with an entertaining plot. It is a fairly easy read but it is more like a momentary investigation of memory. A study of sudden hopelessness. A fragment of life when it becomes too overwhelming to live. I see it as a report from a period in life when things stand still and it is not clear what will happen next. A time when all one can do is to take a deep breath and wait. In those times it is natural to look back and reread pages one's life has written so far. Not that such a reminiscence improves a lot in the present moment but we can feel too paralyzed by grief to do anything else but keep rewinding the already recorded tape of our mind. So do not expect a lot of action because nothing too startling is going to happen. However, Banville skillfully weaves a few threads into a carpet of the past that safely carries us on our expedition where we visit the life of a middle aged man Max. Maybe not unless you suffered patches of total loneliness in your own life will you be able to suffer the melancholy of Max(Morden), a man now over 50 yo whose wife Anne recently died, a process that took a year. Grieving he returns to a place by the sea where he spent a memorable summer as a child and encountered a well off family called Graces. They too were there on their vacation that didn't end happily. The characters that are introduced in the book serve as a background to Max and his attempt to deal with his feeling of abandonment. A witness to oneself fallen apart. Banville ambitiously uses some elaborate vocabulary so have a OED at hand. 'The truth is, it all has begun to run together, past and possible future and impossible present.'
ellemorgan More than 1 year ago
You definitely can't breeze through Banville's writing; his words demand to be savored.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Sea on the recommendation of a reviewer that claimed it was a good book about grieving like Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking. Wrong. I didn't care about the characters. Everything and everyone spanned between dismal and boring. I see no greatness in Banville's writing. He seems to be a disturbed individual. This book was the equivalence of sticking a pencil in your eye.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mingy is the Brit word for this book (a combination of stingy and mean?). The main character and his daughter have no appeal and his fine writing about an Irish coastal holiday resort is boring. I gave up after 100 pages.
BonnieP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. When you can smell the salt water in the words on the page, you know the author has done his job.
albertgoldfain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reads swiftly, like one or two short stories, but also slowly, involving several threads of memory. The Max-Anna narrative is very powerful and is probably why this won the Booker prize. Moments of the Grace family narrative were as potent, but the stream of thoughts were too tidy at times and too hazy at others...there is also a fair bit of cliche with the sea symbolism. I would especially recommend the book as a means of understanding and coping with the kind of loss the narrator experiences.
AndrewBlackman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Banville is a magnificent prose writer. I loved his earlier book Birchwood, so thought I would try out The Sea, which won him the Booker Prize in 2005. I liked it, but did feel a little bit disappointed.The writing was still beautiful. The blurb on the cover from the Daily Telegraph was not an overstatement: "They are like hits of some delicious drug, these sentences." I really enjoyed the descriptions, the rhythm of the prose, the unusual words, the constant freshness of the language.The characters and plot, though, left me a little cold. In fact, it's been a few months since I read the book and already I can't remember much about the plot, which is a bad sign. I wasn't very interested either in the elderly narrator's current life or in the childhood reminiscence which make up the majority of the book. At times it is a moving meditation on loss and the passing of time, but I found myself wishing it would go somewhere. The "revelations" at the end of the book didn't really add much for me either. It ended up being a beautiful ride to nowhere in particular.I still plan to read more books by John Banville, but to anyone wanting to try him out for the first time I would definitely recommend Birchwood over The Sea.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Objectively speaking, I know this is a very well written book. But ultimately I wasn¿t able to enjoy this story about grieving, which I found too depressing. I may revisit eventually but for now I'll content myself with having read the first 103 pages. I was going to rate it less than three stars, but I can't discount the quality of the writing.
JimElkins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What does it mean to be able to write so gorgeously -- to be apparently incapable of writing normally, like an ordinary novelist, to perennially attract clichés like "lush," "beautiful," "mesmerizing," virtuouso" -- and yet be hopelessly, permanently incapable of giving a novel drive, impetus, force, tension, forward movement: and to know that you never can, and to make a virtue of that fault, constructing books that seem to require lassitude, torpor, mulling and meditation, and then, perhaps because of your fame and the insulation it produces, to be unaware that readers can see that ploy for what it is, and not even take pleasure in its desperation?
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As others have indicated, the prose in this slim novel is stunning, lush, and elegant. I would like to have been able to identify more with the main character. The juxtaposition of his childhood memories of summer with the Graces and his present-day end-of-life issues and grief over his wife's death are poignant; however, he seemed stilted, self-conscious, even posturing, as he related his feelings. As wonderfully as it is written, I have to connect with the character(s) in a book to give it a higher rating.
strandbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this during my commute. I'm not very good at listening to audio books so maybe I would have enjoyed this more if I read it. My main issue was the syntax. It seems Banville will always pick a 5 syllable rarely used word over anything else. Since I was listening I'd get stuck at a word and say it over again in my mind...thus missing out on the story. I have a feeling that if I read it these words would also stop me and jolt me from the story. Not everyone has to be Earnest Hemingway, but I felt that he enjoyed flipping through the dictionary and finding ways to work in obscure words. As for the plot, I thought the best parts dealt with Max as he experienced his wife Anne battle cancer. I kept zoning out when he was at the seashore in present time. The Chloe/Miles/Grace plot was interesting, but I kept thinking "what pre teen boy really thinks like this?" Similar to the word choice the characterization and memories of the boy didn't seem to fit.
angella.beshara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Initially this novel drew me in with its rich prose and methodical pace. In fact, the Sea's style and tone reminded me at first of Marilyn Robinson's Gilead, which I loved. Both novels follow an elderly man as he contemplates the choices he has made throughout his life and considering the impact of those decisions on his life. However unlike Gilead, which uses rich language to demonstrate the complexity of the character's feelings towards his relationships, the Sea lacks strong character development and becomes increasingly tedious to read. The one thing I have applaud Banville for is creating a strong narrative structure. Although, I didn't really feel any tension in the stories of the narrator's childhood centering on the Grace's, I did appreciate the seamless juxtaposition between the memories of his wife's last days and his time with that family. I also liked that to deal with the loss of his wife he literally retreats to his past by moving to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers with the Graces. I think we are suppose to believe that the character comes to terms with all the loss in his life by facing his past and returning to the Sea when in fact by the end I was personally just glad I didn't have to spend any more time wading through the prententious, torpid prose.
clogbottom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. I was expecting something a little more direct, a la 'The Book of Evidence,' but 'The Sea' was very nebulous. I'm sure it was meant to be, but it didn't have enough else going for it to raise my opinion.You will wear out your dictionary reading this book.The book is still, it shouldn't be ignored, very pretty. Both in appearance and in content.It seems like Banville set out to write a plotless novel, and in that sense he succeeded. I didn't end up caring about any of the characters very much. I didn't mind reading about them, but I didn't take positive or negative issue with any of their actions. The typeface was lovely. One guy had a lot of chest hair. Etc.My prevailing feeling throughout the book was one of waiting for something interesting to happen. Which I'm sure is a fault of my 21st century attention-span-deprived brain, and not one of Banville's obliviousness to the makings of an arresting novel.I guess it felt more like a soak in a hot tub than a voyage on the sea. Only needs one letter changed to be 'The Spa.'
amyrenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wanted the language and imagery of this novel to carry me away much more than it actually did. The narrator, Max, is very detached, despite the fact that the novel supposedly details his grief over the death of his wife, and his first brush with death during his adolescence. For such a compact novel, it still moved very slowly, and did not pack the emotional punch I was expecting. Some nice writing, but missed thel mark for me.
ayaeckel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
nicely written coming of age storywith a disturbing finish
judye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Man reflects on and returns to the venue of a seminal childhood holiday after the death of his wife. Slow and reflective. Beautiful prose!
lizshafran on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Banville creates a haunting mood with his richly descriptive text. This story of a widowed man requires slow and careful reading to enjoy the rich world that he creates.
1morechapter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was not my cup of tea. I don't need an exciting plot to enjoy a book. I don't mind older men looking back on their lives. In a similar vein, I loved Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, although I hated Roth's Everyman. This was closer to Everyman.Max is a widower that is overly sensitive to smells who is grieving (I guess?) over his wife. He calls her the "c" word and admits he really didn't know her because he preferred not to know her.Not one character in the book was likable. I guess I was lucky this was short.
flourish_leslie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of The Sea matters less than the way it is told. Max Morden, a recent widower, takes up residence at a seaside inn that played host to a transformative summer of his childhood. Now, he spends his time drinking and reflecting upon his wife's illness and that summer long ago. Using the sea as both metaphor and setting, Banville deftly handles the universal nature of loss. Banville writes not about but through his narrator, an art historian, and the language of The Sea reflects its protagonist's linguistic background. Every third page, I had to look up an obscure art or ocean word, such as craquelure or groyne, which would be casually tossed in as a descriptor. In fact, I eventually took to reading the novel while sitting under my laptop and an open page of The prose of The Sea will draw in any reader, such as myself, who loves to linger over a poetic phrase. Many of the sentences in the novel are like sumptuous packages, and they often present the reader a depth of wisdom. Take, for example, this observation: "Happiness was different in childhood. It was so much then a matter simply of accumulation, of taking things -- new experiences, new emotions -- and applying them like so many polished tiles to what would someday be the marvellously finished pavilion of the self." Banville finds the fine balance between that exploration of the child and a revelation of the adult self. Occassionally reminiscent of high modernist stream-of-consciousness, The Sea considers the connection between all moments of life, with its tides and undertows of thought and understanding. I definitely recommend this quick and rewarding read and will set to diving through Banville's other works in the near future.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The narrator of this novel relives and re-imagines scenes from his childhood and his life with his recently-deceased wife. He has returned to the seaside in an attempt to make sense of what has happened to him.Banville writes with exquisite prose. There¿s not much else to propel the reader though, since we get vignettes, imperfectly remembered and confused. Essentially plotless, we don¿t learn some essential details until almost the end of the novel - so don¿t give up on it!I almost Banville hadn¿t been so stingy with his plot points. The novel would have benefited from an earlier clue about who the landlady really was, for instance. I know it would have kept me reading with more interest to know that something was coming up later that would be more interesting. But the novel won the Booker prize, and has gotten rave reviews, so who am I to criticize?Highly recommended.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
WOW...a masterpiece of prose. Banville manages to capture the disjointed flow of memories - old and new - and transform them into words. Somehow, a book which amount to the stream of thoughts passing through the characters mind, creates a book which somehow is engagingly boring inspite of the eventfulness of the actual plot. Portions of the text could be best described as poetry - beautiful, concise, meaningful.
TheTwoDs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the finest books I've read in years. The language is so crystalline, precise and poignant, the author manages to put into words emotions the rest of us have a hard time acknowledging even exist. The beauty of the words, the sentences and paragraphs mimics the beauty of a gently rolling sea, the flow of the language rising and falling like the waves. I have been recommending this book to complete strangers when browsing in bookstores and I see them pick it up and look at the back jacket.
LeHack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Difficult at first, but his descriptions draw you into the story. You could feel his grief. Somewhat hard to follow due to the character's mind wandering from long ago to recent past to present throughout the novel.