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The Sea Paperback – August 15, 2006

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Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Banville's magnificent new novel, which won this year's Man Booker Prize and is being rushed into print by Knopf, presents a man mourning his wife's recent death—and his blighted life. "The past beats inside me like a second heart," observes Max Morden early on, and his return to the seaside resort where he lost his innocence gradually yields the objects of his nostalgia. Max's thoughts glide swiftly between the events of his wife's final illness and the formative summer, 50 years past, when the Grace family—father, mother and twins Chloe and Myles—lived in a villa in the seaside town where Max and his quarreling parents rented a dismal "chalet." Banville seamlessly juxtaposes Max's youth and age, and each scene is rendered with the intense visual acuity of a photograph ("the mud shone blue as a new bruise"). As in all Banville novels, things are not what they seem. Max's cruelly capricious complicity in the sad history that unfolds, and the facts kept hidden from the reader until the shocking denouement, brilliantly dramatize the unpredictability of life and the incomprehensibility of death. Like the strange high tide that figures into Max's visions and remembrances, this novel sweeps the reader into the inexorable waxing and waning of life. (Nov. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 195 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400097029
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400097029
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (213 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

Maybe it's just my problem, as they say, or lately I've just had too much Hilary Mantel.
Mr. D. James
The characters all seemed unlikeable and the story, if it could be called that, was very simple.
D. Spidet
Banville's use of language and his style of writing is beautiful and actually very impressive.
D. S. Feinberg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

251 of 257 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on December 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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114 of 119 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. I do not know if this is my doing, I mean if this quality is something I bring to the silence of my room, and even of the whole house, or if it is a local effect, due to the salt in the air, perhaps, or the seaside climate in general.
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Darin Rachunok on September 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
John Banville's The Sea has had such a profound effect on me that I have decided to write my first Amazon review. I picked it up out of curiosity, knowing it had won the 2005 Booker Prize and it has lived up to its prize-winning reputation.

I have rarely, if ever, had the pleasure of reading such beautifully constructed prose. It's almost poetic at times. The words paint an image, meticulously shaded by simile and metaphor, that haunts the reader, much as the memories of the protagonist haunt him. And the sea of the title is a presence on every page, whether it is mentioned in the text or not. At times you can feel the language rolling across its undulating surface. It's this feeling which propels you on.

I found it to be a moving treatise on loss, grief and the way we deal with it. At the same time, it offers a glimpse at the way memories can bend and fracture until one can't distinguish between what one remembers and what one thinks one remembers.

The comparisons to Nabokov's style have been made about Banville for quite some time, but I'll add a comparison to Virginia Woolf here, particularly with To the Lighthouse, based on the vivid descriptions, keen observations and strong internal monologue.

I'd recommend it for fans of The Lovely Bones, as well, for the way it shows a character dealing with tragedy and grief.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Steven Reynolds on January 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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 ›
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