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114 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Beauty Of Language, November 27, 2005
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This review is from: The Sea (Man Booker Prize) (Hardcover)
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."

I would have been content if this novel had just been about Morden's musings on first love, the inexactitude of memory, the taking care of and losing in death of a wife far too early, the mild sorrow of what he might have done differently-- he opines that if Bonnard, the artist whom he is attempting to write about, didn't have all the answers then neither should he: "Why should I demand more veracity of vision of myself than of a great and tragic artist? We did our best, Anna [his wife] and I. We forgave each other for all that we were not." Many a decent writer would have let it go at that. Banville does not. In the last few pages of this small novel, he delivers at least three body blows that the reader-- at least this one-- was not prepared for. Looking back, I see that the writer does drop clues along the away about the possible ending. Read carefully or Mr. Banville will take your breath away.
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