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The Sea, the Sea (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – March 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews


"Dazzlingly entertaining and inventive" The Times "One of the most ambitious tours de force in many years... There are pages one races through to see what happens. She is a virtuoso at description" Daily Mail "She was a brilliantly clever woman" -- Dame Judi Dench "There is no doubt in my mind that Iris Murdoch is one of the most important novelists now writing in English...The power of her imaginative vision, her intelligence and her awareness and revelation of human truth are quite remarkable" The Times "A fabulous novel...funny and poignant and is arguably Murdoch's finest hour" -- Gary Kemp Daily Express --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

The sea: turbulent and leaden, transparent and opaque, magician and mother... When Charles Arrowby, over sixty, a demi god of the theatre -- director, playwright and actor -- retires from his glittering London world in order to 'abjure magic and become a hermit', it is to the sea that he turns. He hopes at least to escape from 'the woman' -- but unexpectedly meets one whom he loved long ago. His buddhist cousin, James, also arrives. he is menaced by a monster from the deep. Charles finds his 'solitude' peopled by the drama of his own fantasies and obsessions. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; 1 edition (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014118616X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141186160
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the most influential British writers of the twentieth century. She was awarded the 1978 Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea, won the Royal Society Literary Award in 1987, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth. Her final years were clouded by a long struggle with Alzheimer's before her passing in 1999.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

96 of 98 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Sea, The Sea has become one of my top five favorite books and Iris Murdoch one of my favorite authors.
In The Sea, The Sea, we meet arrogant, snobbish Charles Arrowby, a retired London theatre director. Charles has recently bought a house by the sea where he hopes to finish his pretentious autobiography. Many things happen, however, to disrupt this enterprise.
First, Charles discovers that one of the small town's inhabitants is his very first love, a love who disappeared from his life in his teens. Believing her to symbolize his lost youth and innocence, Charles becomes obsessed with her almost to the point of madness.
Iris Murdoch's books are all excellent studies of relationships and The Sea, The Sea is certainly one of her best. In it, the character of Charles lies at the center of a vast network of complex relationships and interpersonal interactions. Much of the novel is an exploration of how we, ourselves, influence what others eventually come to see about people and how they relate to them.
Although relationships take center stage in this novel, there is much symbolism and even a little of the supernatural. The sea is so ever-present in this book that it almost seems to be a character in and of itself. Charles reacts to the sea in many ways, some benign, some not so benign. The sea, itself, is portrayed as something that is untimately not able to be understood or controlled, much as is life.
Although this book is passionately moral, it is definitely not a treatise on how to behave in a moral fashion. In fact, many of Murdoch's characters could be said to be anything but "moral.
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on November 10, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first section of this novel, "Prehistory," seems interminable at times. The British director Charles Arrowby has retired to a drafty old house by the sea to write his memoirs. He begins in diary form, relating his daily regime, detailing his fastidiously prepared meals, recalling with fondness (and condescension) people in his life, dismissing others who have crossed him, and reminiscing about the one "true love" of his life, who inexplicably left him when he was a youth. With the exception of one or two mysterious incidents (at one point, he thinks he sees a dragon in the sea), so little happens in the first 87 pages that anyone will wonder, why am I reading this?
It's a set-up. After this lengthy prologue, people from Arrowby's past begin arriving at his doorstep or in the nearby village, shattering the tranquil atmosphere of his retirement and belying the gist of his memories. As the one character who Arrowby had earlier described as "very attached to me" says in anger: "You're an exploded myth.... You never did anything for mankind, you never did a damn thing for anybody but yourself." The reader quickly realizes that Arrowby is an egotistical boor who, under the guise of "love," wielded power and fear over the people in his life. Then, as the horde of Londoners from his past continue to invade his new home and complicate his life, he unexpectedly runs into his adolescent flame--and he convinces himself that, trapped in a marriage he regards as repulsive, she still has feelings for him.
What follows is both hilarious and heart-rending--and often excruciating to read. Charles Arrowby is not a likeable character; he is, in fact, detestable. And the life he remembers is not how his "friends" recall it. As his cousin asks him, "What is the truth anyway...?
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85 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary C. Cappello on February 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Having recently seen the film Iris, and being disappointed inasmuch as it focused mostly on her personal life as a young woman and on her Alzheimer's as an older woman without featuring information about her many novels, I decided that I'd been remiss in never having read her works. I then proceeded to read The Sea, The Sea. This book is deep as the sea, inasmuch as it is about the mental processes of a not-so-good playwright who manages to become famous. The novel turns out to be quite interesting; in fact, fascinating; though at one point, somewhere around page 100, I felt that I didn't give a whit about it all. That was temporary. I returned to the book, read the remaining 4/5ths, and found it rewarding. It starts out on an intimate basis, as if you are reading a letter from a friend, and I utterly loved that ploy. Then, it changes; suddenly, all kinds of twists and turns occur, and though the reader has at first seen Charles, the protagonist, as a humorous man who withdraws from society to a home by the sea (I chuckle, for this house on a cliff in rugged terrain is definitely not the haven which a home should be), circumstances plunge him into temporary madness. The word "sea" conjures so many images of all that the sea can be: wild, calm, loving, cruel. Charles gets to see every aspect of the sea's personality, and we get to see every aspect of his. At one point in the book, Charles' madness is hard to take, as we are drawn in to experience it. In other words, since Charles has chosen a craggy environment in his quest for peace, peace is hard to come by. Charles undergoes an epiphany -- in fact, more than one.Read more ›
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