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The Sea, the Sea (1978)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,898793,276 (3.92)1 / 392
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. "From the Trade Paperback edition."… (more)
  1. 21
    The Bell by Iris Murdoch (Booksloth)
  2. 00
    Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (PilgrimJess)
    PilgrimJess: Another book that looks at obsessive love.
  3. 22
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling (thorold)
    thorold: Two books that demonstrate that it's possible to use a Buddhist holy man to power the plot of a complex modern novel without getting all mystical and Hermann Hesse.
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English (73)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  All languages (79)
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)

The Sea, the sea by Irish Murdoch or What is wrong with the Booker.

Written after 28 of 502 pages.

Of course you are going to want to know why I’m not reading another page of this book. Of course, you are going to want to know why, should I ever find myself near to Murdoch – and I mean Iris, whose crimes against humanity already strike me as not so far away as you might think, from the other one’s – and should I have a loaded shooting device at hand, I will ask her, donning an insincere smile intending to look pacific, what the capital crime punishment is hereabouts. Of course I will be thinking exactly what you think I will be thinking.

Why? Because she fucking uses the words ‘of course’ all the time, of course.

Of course, of course….you’re going to raise the ‘but it isn’t her, it’s her character using the words’ argument, aren’t you? Well, some of you. Go away. I don’t want you to finish reading the rest of this. We could all do that, couldn’t we? Write crap in the first person and get it published. Of course, we could.

Get it published, did I say? Heck, we can do better than that. We can get it a Booker Prize. Big mistake. If I’d read the back cover, I never would have started this book. That’s the first thing about any book. Check that it hasn’t won the Booker…it hasn’t?…tick, read.

Of course, I’m not counting, but:

p. 24 Of course it is quite impossible to buy fresh fish…
p. 25 Of course they do not…..
p. 25 Of course the notion of growing herbs….
p. 27 Basil is of course the king of herbs
p. 28 And of course we acted plays too.
p. 28 Of course I loved my mother
p. 29 I went into the theatre of course…
p. 29 3 lines later, mark you: I had of course other motives.

For fuck’s sake. I wouldn’t even mind if we agreed it was hastily written trash. Maybe that’s what the Booker Prize is for?

But, of course, that isn’t what you are going to say, is it? And you know who you are. All fifteen or so of you. You’re going to talk about how carefully each word was selected by this skilled craftsman, this writer of literature. How she mulled over every word – for years, probably – picking at them, adding, subtracting, reconsidering. Of course she did.

I check the ‘about’ link on the Booker Prize, page: ‘The Man Booker Prize promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and even publishers….’

Important, then. Maybe too important for merit to enter the equation. Or maybe this was just some seriously crap year for books.

‘The Man Booker judges are selected from the country’s finest critics, writers and academics to maintain the consistent excellence of the prize.’ Well, that’s okay, then. If that’s who selects the prize winner, we can sleep easy, as we are then reassured:

One of the main reasons for the Man Booker Prize’s pre-eminence in the world is the known integrity of its judging process. There has never been even a whisper of bribery or corruption or influence, as with other internationally known prizes….Every effort is made to achieve a balance between the judges of gender, articulacy and role, so that the panel includes a literary critic, an academic, a literary editor, a novelist and a major figure. Then, once they are appointed, they are in charge without the slightest interference from the administrator or the sponsor. From this has grown the total independence and balance that lies at the heart of the choices made. It is that which gives the Man Booker Prize its very special distinction among literary prizes the world over.

Being a compulsive researcher, I couldn’t just leave it there. What was so wrong with the books of 1978 that The sea, the sea got the BP guernsey?

Looking at the goodreads most popular list of books published in 1978 I see, for example,

rest here:

http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/the-sea-the-sea-by-irish-m...

( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |

The Sea, the sea by Irish Murdoch or What is wrong with the Booker.

Written after 28 of 502 pages.

Of course you are going to want to know why I’m not reading another page of this book. Of course, you are going to want to know why, should I ever find myself near to Murdoch – and I mean Iris, whose crimes against humanity already strike me as not so far away as you might think, from the other one’s – and should I have a loaded shooting device at hand, I will ask her, donning an insincere smile intending to look pacific, what the capital crime punishment is hereabouts. Of course I will be thinking exactly what you think I will be thinking.

Why? Because she fucking uses the words ‘of course’ all the time, of course.

Of course, of course….you’re going to raise the ‘but it isn’t her, it’s her character using the words’ argument, aren’t you? Well, some of you. Go away. I don’t want you to finish reading the rest of this. We could all do that, couldn’t we? Write crap in the first person and get it published. Of course, we could.

Get it published, did I say? Heck, we can do better than that. We can get it a Booker Prize. Big mistake. If I’d read the back cover, I never would have started this book. That’s the first thing about any book. Check that it hasn’t won the Booker…it hasn’t?…tick, read.

Of course, I’m not counting, but:

p. 24 Of course it is quite impossible to buy fresh fish…
p. 25 Of course they do not…..
p. 25 Of course the notion of growing herbs….
p. 27 Basil is of course the king of herbs
p. 28 And of course we acted plays too.
p. 28 Of course I loved my mother
p. 29 I went into the theatre of course…
p. 29 3 lines later, mark you: I had of course other motives.

For fuck’s sake. I wouldn’t even mind if we agreed it was hastily written trash. Maybe that’s what the Booker Prize is for?

But, of course, that isn’t what you are going to say, is it? And you know who you are. All fifteen or so of you. You’re going to talk about how carefully each word was selected by this skilled craftsman, this writer of literature. How she mulled over every word – for years, probably – picking at them, adding, subtracting, reconsidering. Of course she did.

I check the ‘about’ link on the Booker Prize, page: ‘The Man Booker Prize promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and even publishers….’

Important, then. Maybe too important for merit to enter the equation. Or maybe this was just some seriously crap year for books.

‘The Man Booker judges are selected from the country’s finest critics, writers and academics to maintain the consistent excellence of the prize.’ Well, that’s okay, then. If that’s who selects the prize winner, we can sleep easy, as we are then reassured:

One of the main reasons for the Man Booker Prize’s pre-eminence in the world is the known integrity of its judging process. There has never been even a whisper of bribery or corruption or influence, as with other internationally known prizes….Every effort is made to achieve a balance between the judges of gender, articulacy and role, so that the panel includes a literary critic, an academic, a literary editor, a novelist and a major figure. Then, once they are appointed, they are in charge without the slightest interference from the administrator or the sponsor. From this has grown the total independence and balance that lies at the heart of the choices made. It is that which gives the Man Booker Prize its very special distinction among literary prizes the world over.

Being a compulsive researcher, I couldn’t just leave it there. What was so wrong with the books of 1978 that The sea, the sea got the BP guernsey?

Looking at the goodreads most popular list of books published in 1978 I see, for example,

rest here:

http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/the-sea-the-sea-by-irish-m...

( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |

The Sea, the sea by Irish Murdoch or What is wrong with the Booker.

Written after 28 of 502 pages.

Of course you are going to want to know why I’m not reading another page of this book. Of course, you are going to want to know why, should I ever find myself near to Murdoch – and I mean Iris, whose crimes against humanity already strike me as not so far away as you might think, from the other one’s – and should I have a loaded shooting device at hand, I will ask her, donning an insincere smile intending to look pacific, what the capital crime punishment is hereabouts. Of course I will be thinking exactly what you think I will be thinking.

Why? Because she fucking uses the words ‘of course’ all the time, of course.

Of course, of course….you’re going to raise the ‘but it isn’t her, it’s her character using the words’ argument, aren’t you? Well, some of you. Go away. I don’t want you to finish reading the rest of this. We could all do that, couldn’t we? Write crap in the first person and get it published. Of course, we could.

Get it published, did I say? Heck, we can do better than that. We can get it a Booker Prize. Big mistake. If I’d read the back cover, I never would have started this book. That’s the first thing about any book. Check that it hasn’t won the Booker…it hasn’t?…tick, read.

Of course, I’m not counting, but:

p. 24 Of course it is quite impossible to buy fresh fish…
p. 25 Of course they do not…..
p. 25 Of course the notion of growing herbs….
p. 27 Basil is of course the king of herbs
p. 28 And of course we acted plays too.
p. 28 Of course I loved my mother
p. 29 I went into the theatre of course…
p. 29 3 lines later, mark you: I had of course other motives.

For fuck’s sake. I wouldn’t even mind if we agreed it was hastily written trash. Maybe that’s what the Booker Prize is for?

But, of course, that isn’t what you are going to say, is it? And you know who you are. All fifteen or so of you. You’re going to talk about how carefully each word was selected by this skilled craftsman, this writer of literature. How she mulled over every word – for years, probably – picking at them, adding, subtracting, reconsidering. Of course she did.

I check the ‘about’ link on the Booker Prize, page: ‘The Man Booker Prize promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and even publishers….’

Important, then. Maybe too important for merit to enter the equation. Or maybe this was just some seriously crap year for books.

‘The Man Booker judges are selected from the country’s finest critics, writers and academics to maintain the consistent excellence of the prize.’ Well, that’s okay, then. If that’s who selects the prize winner, we can sleep easy, as we are then reassured:

One of the main reasons for the Man Booker Prize’s pre-eminence in the world is the known integrity of its judging process. There has never been even a whisper of bribery or corruption or influence, as with other internationally known prizes….Every effort is made to achieve a balance between the judges of gender, articulacy and role, so that the panel includes a literary critic, an academic, a literary editor, a novelist and a major figure. Then, once they are appointed, they are in charge without the slightest interference from the administrator or the sponsor. From this has grown the total independence and balance that lies at the heart of the choices made. It is that which gives the Man Booker Prize its very special distinction among literary prizes the world over.

Being a compulsive researcher, I couldn’t just leave it there. What was so wrong with the books of 1978 that The sea, the sea got the BP guernsey?

Looking at the goodreads most popular list of books published in 1978 I see, for example,

rest here:

http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/the-sea-the-sea-by-irish-m...

( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
"Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with cargo they will return to port."

Charles Arrowby, the narrator, is an ageing celebrity who had an illustrious career in the theatre and an equally disastrous personal life. He has recently decided to retire from society and moved to a dilapidated cottage, Shruff End, on a remote and rocky coastline to reflect on his life and write his novel/memoirs/diary (he never seems to decide which). Whereas others find the house creepy Charles and the sea foreboding, Charles sees beauty and enjoys taking bracing daily dips in the surf.

Charles has moved from London and escaped to the sea at least in part because of his tangled and obsessive love life but one day he unexpectedly bumps into his childhood sweetheart Hartley in his local village. This old and unfulfilled love blinds Charles to the fact that Hartley is now a dowdy middle-aged housewife with whom he has nothing in common, and he sets out to win her heart all over again and in the process wreck her marriage an institution that he has a very poor view of. Charles is visited at his cottage by his cousin, James, and a group of eccentric friends, including a couple of his old lovers, which provides both the drama and comedy of this book.

In many respects the title of this novel seems a little odd as other than the cottages coastal location the sea seems, despite being the location of one tragic event, peripheral to the plot but Murdoch writes about it so vividly that it feels like an actual character in itself. We see it as an ever changing entity, sometimes calm and safe, sometimes stormy and dangerous, and all the moods in between. The cottage also takes on a personality of its own whilst Charles's rather eccentric thoughts about food adds a comedic element to this book.

"Of course reading and thinking are important but, by God food is important too."

However, one of the real strengths of the author's writing is that despite Charles not being a particularly likeable character, he is a vain misogynist who has treated his past lovers abominably, I strangely found myself rather hoping that his single-minded pursuit of Hartley would culminate in everything working out for him this time around. Charles came to the sea in search of peace but as his old friends turn on him you wonder if he will ever find it. But does Charles really deserve to have a happy ending?

"the glitter's fading fast and you'll find yourself alone and you won't even be a monster in anybody's mind any more".

This is a beautiful, complex novel that shines a spotlight on strong human emotions like fear, jealousy, vanity, envy and misplaced love and I can see why it is so highly regarded. I should admit that this is my first experience of the author's many works and whilst I can only admire her writing style and as such would recommend it to others I also found it overly long and as such am unlikely to revisit it despite having one particular quote which really resonates with my own views on life.

"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better." ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 9, 2020 |
Very funny but overlong book. ( )
  ThomasPluck | Apr 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
The book that finally won Iris Murdoch a Booker is at least as ludicrous as it is brilliant...The surprise isn't so much that she failed to scoop the prize three times in a row, but that a jury managed to unite behind one of her books – especially one as variously sublime, ridiculous, difficult, facile, profound and specious as The Sea, the Sea....So there it is, a book that has left me thoroughly divided. It's as flawed as it is wonderful and it took a brave jury to give it the prize. Or, at least, a very forgiving one.
 

» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iris Murdochprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burnside, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To Rosemary Cramp
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The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine.
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The chagrin, the ferocious ambition which James I am sure quite
unconsciously, prompted in me was something which came about gradually and
raged intermittently.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Charles Arrowby, leading light of England's theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor, both professionally and personally, and amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he has strung along for many years. None of his plans work out, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of the strange events and unexpected visitors-some real, some spectral-that disrupt his world and shake his oversized ego to its very core.
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