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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.
John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of thirteen previous novels including The Book of Evidence, which was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.
Booker Prize-winning author John Banville presents a sensitive and remarkably complete character study of Max Morden, an art critic/writer from Ireland whose wife has just died of a lingering illness. Seeking solace, Max has checked into the Cedars, a now-dilapidated guest house in the seaside village of Ballyless, where he and his family spent their summers when he was a child. There he spent hours in the company of Chloe and Myles Grace, his constant companions. Images of foreboding suggest that some tragedy occurred while he was there, though the reader discovers only gradually what it might have been. While at the Cedars, he contemplates the nature of life, love, and death, and our imperfect memories of these momentous events.
As Max probes his recollections, he reveals his most intimate feelings, constantly questioning the accuracy of his memory, and juxtaposing his childhood memories with his recent memories of his wife Anna's "inappropriate" illness and her futile treatments. Through flashbacks, he also introduces us to his earlier life with Anna and his fervent hopes that through her he could become someone more interesting. "I was always a distinct no-one, whose fiercest wish was to be an indistinct someone," he says, confessing that he saw her as "the fairground mirror in which all my distortions would be made straight."
More a meditation than a novel with a strong plot, The Sea brings Max to life (as limited as his life is), recreating his seemingly simple, yet often profound, thoughts in language which will startle the reader into recognition of their universality. To some extent an everyman, Max speaks to the reader in uniquely intimate ways.Read more ›
Once in a while a novelist totally captures the reader with his exquisite, finely wrought language. John Banville in THE SEA, the recent winner of the Booker Prize, is just such a writer. If you are not careful, you will be so taken by the beauty of his words, that you may miss the nuances of meaning so important to fitting all the parts of his story together.
The narrator is Max Morden, an Irishman who a year after the death of his wife, returns to a town by the sea where he spent his summers over 50 years ago and fell under the spell of the Grace family, composed of the mother, father and twins: Chloe and Myles, a strange young lad who has never spoken. In a style reminiscent of Proust, Thomas Mann, Henry James and the best of Edmund White, Banville's narrator goes from the summers in the past to the recent "plague year" of his wife's terminal illness to the present where he rents a room in the Cedars, where once the Graces lived, and is now inhabited by the mysterious Miss Vavasour, the current landlady, and her only other tenant, the Colonel.
You can open the book to almost any page and read beautiful, poetic language. On our memories of our youth: "So much of life was stillness then, when we were young, or so it seems now; a biding stillness; a vigilance. We were waiting in our as yet unfashioned world, scanning the future as the boy and I had scanned each other, like soldiers in the field, watching for what was to come." Or on Banville's description of the sea: "Down here, by the sea, there is a special quality to the silence at night.Read more ›
Grieving for his dead wife, Anna, the recently widowed - widowered? - art critic Max Mordern returns to the seaside village where he passed the summers of his childhood. He doesn't move into the old family chalet, but rather into a room of the large holiday house once occupied by the wealthy family of his childhood friend, Chloe Grace. There he's supposed to be writing about the artist Bonnard, but instead - or perhaps as well - pens a meditation on the past, exploring the nature of memory and loss... Sounds depressing, but this novel actually made me laugh out loud several times. Banville virgins coming to this direct from the Man Booker winners list might find the absence of a compelling plot off-putting, not to mention the knowingly unreliable narration and the lurking sense that the reader is being elaborately toyed with - especially in the final pages where melodramatic revelations are self-consciously, almost wryly, deployed. It isn't you. It's Banville. As David Mehegan reported recently in the Sydney Sun Herald, most of Banville's novels are like this: relatively thin in terms of plot, scene and dialogue, and virtually all of them are told in the first person by a more or less dislikeable male narrator in an overwrought, lyrical style. His tormented men see everything, and what they see and think unrolls in dazzling verbal pyrotechnics, thick with arcane words and startling metaphors (you'd best keep a dictionary handy). Mehegan quotes other critics as saying that Banville does stretch the reader at times, looking for exactitude and precision, always searching for the mot juste. At its most intense, there is a kind of preciousness in his work.Read more ›