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The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
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The Sea, the Sea (1978)

by Iris Murdoch

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2,206462,943 (3.92)1 / 246
  1. 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.
  2. 01
    The Bell by Iris Murdoch (Booksloth)
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English (42)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Wow. This one had been sitting on my "to read" shelf for a long time. The polarised reviews from other readers prompted me to continuously put off picking it up as I had had a bit of a dud run book-wise and didn't feel up to facing another reading disappointment.

Perhaps I was in just the right, magic place for this meandering diary-style tale. I loved it from the start and was even happy to accept the inconclusive conclusion: it seemed appropriate.

Yes, Charles is not a pleasant person. Some have said he is unlikeable but that was not my impression, indeed one thing that astounded and impressed me was how Iris Murdoch put me in the head of this seriously flawed personality and yet I found him strangely likeable!

Some also were discomforted by the depiction of female characters, disliking what they saw as their weakness or madness (or both). I didn't see it like that. We receive only Charles's perceptions of these women and I feel it is apparent throughout that his point of view is so selfishly flawed as to be almost entirely unreliable. Reading between his lines, I see women who aren't actually that helpless at all, indeed are often just good, normal people (characteristics Charles is intrinsically incapable of understanding, indeed that he doesn't even believe exist since he is so convinced that everyone else feels and acts in the same egotistical manner as himself.) Some of the women (not all) are perhaps a little inexplicably in his sway, but I did get a sense of his cruel charisma so that made a fair amount of sense as well.

Was this her best? I don't know, but I need to read more from Dame Iris Murdoch to find out! ( )
  Vivl | Jul 10, 2014 |
Well-written, and at times rollickingly funny, yet ultimately depressing and just…empty. ( )
  lothiriel2003 | Jun 25, 2014 |
Charles Arrowby retires from his busy theatre life to a small cottage by the sea to enjoy solitude. Soon enough he's writing to friends and getting enormously muddled in his past relationships: with Lizzie who wants to marry him, with Mary Hartley who was his teenage sweetheart and best friend.

I didn't find Charles particularly likeable as a character, too selfish and not very perceptive about other people's thoughts and feelings, but there was something compelling about him getting ever deeper in the muddle he'd caused himself. ( )
  mari_reads | Feb 9, 2014 |
Like all Iris Murdoch's books I just don't know how to describe The Sea The Sea. The story goes nowhere and everywhere. She leaves us feeling as if we have just read something profound without being able to put our finger on what. Unlike the other Murdoch novels I've read this one is told first person and takes us into the mind of Charles Arrowby so well we feel as if we've sat down and talked to him. Perhaps that's where the genius of the novel lies. ( )
1 vote ecumenicalcouncil | Jan 5, 2014 |
Just finished The Sea, The Sea this evening. It was extremely well written, which kept me interested, which is good because Murdoch obviously never intended to make her main protagonist likeable. Or anyone else in the novel, come to think of it, so it wasn't going to draw me in because of these wonderful characters I might have liked to have in my life at any time. Of course, that's sort of beside the point, because for one thing, I don't think this is of concern to Murdoch in any of her novels, besides which I can think of lots of novels that sucked me right in even if those peopling them were unpleasant (including the only other Murdoch novel I've read so far, A Severed Head which I found hilarious), but I never felt I could really enter into this one. Partly maybe because Charles Arrowby is writing what is a cross between a journal, diary and novel, and as he does so he reminisces over his life, which somehow kept brining up all kinds of unpleasant memories of my own failed relationships with family, friends and ex lovers. For all I know that is actually a testament to how good a writer Murdoch is, that she can make me feel this novel isn't so much about her vain, arrogant, incredibly manipulative and selfish protagonist, but is more about me.

Arrowby, an famous ex threatre actor/director, is now retired to a house without electricity next to a cliff by the sea and has plenty of time on his hands to observe the changing colours of sea and sky and reflect on his past. He has never forgotten his first chaste love, who dumped him without explanations, even though they had promised to marry each other when they were of age. He calls her Hartley (but she is actually a more commonplace 'Mary') and he's always imagined she was what kept him from falling in love and marrying any of his mistresses over the years, so that when he finds Hartley—now married since long ago—is inexplicably living in the same small village, he becomes obsessed beyond reason and is certain he will somehow manage to convince her to leave what he assumes to be an unhappy marriage and make her come to live with him, be it by force if necessary. The fact that Hartley is now actually quite an old woman and that every description he gives of her renders her completely unattractive both physically and in terms of character (dull, dim and depressed come to mind), and that he somehow manages to convince himself he's even more in love with her because and not in spite or her lack of graces gives us ample evidence of just how far gone he is and how deliberate he is about honouring his own delusions. All quite funny, in the way Shakespearean tragedies can be funny sometimes, which is quite a deliberate comparison since Arrowby is a great lover of Shakespeare and Murdoch sought make many parallels with The Tempest in this novel. I'm glad I read it, and there will be more Murdoch in my future to be sure, but it was certainly not an easy read by any measure and even quite painful in parts. ( )
  Smiler69 | Dec 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (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 editionsconfirmed
Burnside, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014118616X, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:35 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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 to 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.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

Legacy Library: Iris Murdoch

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