Friday, August 22, 2008

The Sea

The Sea by John Banville was originally published in 2005. My hardcover copy has 195 pages. The Sea won the Man Booker Prize for 2005. The novel consists of the interior dialogue of an ordinary man - his memories, life, and struggles. In the narrative Banville moves seamlessly back and forth in time. There is no strong plot. Banville's strength is in his prose. He is a lyrical writer with a beautiful way of phrasing and a keen sense of word choice. There is a twist at the end of the novel that seemed unnecessary in this novel that is really more a character study. This novel is not for everyone but will likely be appreciated by writers and readers who love beautifully crafted prose. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
...The voice we hear is that of Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who, soon after his wife's death, has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child - a retreat from the grief, anger, and numbness of his new life without her. But it is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, a well-healed vacationing family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. The seductive mother, the imperious father, the twins Chloe, fiery and forthright, and Myles, silent and expressionless - in whose mysterious connection Max became profoundly entangled, each of them a part of the "barely bearable raw immediacy" of his childhood memories.

Interwoven with this story are his memories of his wife - of their life together, of her death - and the moments, both significant and mundane, that make up his life now: his relationship with his grown daughter, Claire, desperate to pull him from his grief; and with the other boarders at the house where he is staying, where the past beats inside him "like a second heart."

What Max comes to understand about that past and the way it has shaped his state of heart and mind now is at the center of this elegiac, vividly dramatic, beautifully written novel - among the finest we have had from this extraordinary writer.
"They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide." first sentence

"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 totally obscure to me, since why should I desire change, I who have come back to live amidst the rubble of the past?" pg. 4

"The past beats inside me like a second heart." pg. 10

"We walked out into the day as if we were stepping on to a new planet where no one lived but us." pg 13

"It was as if a secret had been imparted to us so dirty, so nasty, that we could hardly bear to remain in one another's company yet were unable to break free, each knowing the foul thing that the other knew and bound together by that very knowledge. From this day forward all would be dissembling. There would be no other way to live with death." pg. 17

"But then, at what moment, of all our moments, is life not utterly, utterly changed, until the final, most momentous change of all?" pg. 25

"Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, the will butting its blunt head against the world's wall, suchlike, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit it, for cosiness. This is a surprising, not to say a shocking, realisation. Before, I saw myself as something of a buccaneer, facing all-comers with a cutlass in my teeth, but now I am compelled to acknowledge that this was a delusion. To be concealed, protected, guarded, that is all I have ever truly wanted, to burrow down into a place of womby warmth and cower there, hidden from the sky's indifferent gaze and the harsh air's damagings. That is why the past is such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future." pg. 44-45

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