John Banville The Sea

ISBN 13: 9780330483285

The Sea

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The Sea (2005) is the eighteenth novel by Irish author John Banville. The story is told by Max Morden, a self-aware, retired art historian attempting to reconcile himself to the deaths of those whom he loved as a child and as an adult. The novel is written as a reflective journal; the setting always in flux, wholly dependent upon the topic or theme Max feels to write about. Despite the constant fluctuations, Max returns to three settings: his childhood memories of the Graces-a wealthy middle class family living in a rented cottage home, the "Cedars"-during the summer holidays; the months leading up to the death of his wife, Anna; and his present stay at the Cedars cottage home in Ballyless-where he has retreated since Anna's death. These three settings are heavily diced and impromptly jumbled together for the novel's entire duration. Max's final days with Anna were awkward; Max does not know how to act with his soon-to-be-dead wife. Scenes of Anna's dying days are more full of commentary than with actual details, as are most of the novel's settings. It's through these commentaries that we learn of Max's choice to return to the cottage of his childhood memories (after Anna's death), confirming that a room would be available for residence during a visit with his adult daughter, Claire.

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Review:

Incandescent prose. Beautifully textured characterisation. Transparent narratives. The adjectives to describe the writing of John Banville are all affirmative, and The Sea is a ringing affirmation of all his best qualities. His publishers are claiming that this novel by the Booker-shortlisted author is his finest yet, and while that claim may have an element of hyperbole, there is no denying that this perfectly balanced book is among the writer’s most accomplished work.

Max Morden has reached a crossroads in his life, and is trying hard to deal with several disturbing things. A recent loss is still taking its toll on him, and a trauma in his past is similarly proving hard to deal with. He decides that he will return to a town on the coast at which he spent a memorable holiday when a boy. His memory of that time devolves on the charismatic Grace family, particularly the seductive twins Myles and Chloe. In a very short time, Max found himself drawn into a strange relationship with them, and pursuant events left their mark on him for the rest of his life. But will he be able to exorcise those memories of the past?

The fashion in which John Banville draws the reader into this hypnotic and disturbing world is non pareil, and the very complex relationships between his brilliantly delineated cast of characters are orchestrated with a master’s skill. As in such books as Shroud and The Book of Evidence, the author eschews the obvious at all times, and the narrative is delivered with subtlety and understatement. The genuine moments of drama, when they do occur, are commensurately more powerful. --Barry Forshaw

About the Author:

John Banville is the author of ten novels, including the Man Booker-prize winning novel The Sea. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.
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