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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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2,533652,386 (3.92)1 / 345
  1. 21
    The Bell by Iris Murdoch (Booksloth)
  2. 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 (60)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All (65)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
Bravo, Iris Murdoch - this was extremely clever and uncomfortable reading. But my goodness - it took me 170 pages to get hooked.

Charles Arrowby is perhaps one of the most dislikable protagonists I've read in a long time. A narcissist through and through, he is egotistical, extremely self-deluded and supremely arrogant, and as is always the way with such people he has a loyal band of friends and ex-lovers who remain moths to his flame, available to be summoned at will when his ego requires further stroking.

There's not much I can say about this novel that wouldn't be a total plot spoiler, therefore I'll limit it to saying that Charles, a somewhat famous theatre director, has retired to a remote house by the sea for a supposedly quiet life, only to unexpectedly bump into his first love. Given Charles' narcissistic disposition, his need to rewrite the past to become the victor in love blindsides him into a dangerous obsession which is played out in front of a cast of eccentric friends who turn up uninvited to stay with him.

This turned into a real page-turning book a third of the way in, but I definitely found the first part tedious as Murdoch set the scene of Arrowby's daily life in the quiet, unfriendly coastal village. I do usually need to fall in love a little bit with at least one of the characters in a novel (however flawed they might be), but Murdoch deliberately makes her characters in this book hugely unlikeable for different reasons. That said, it works - Arrowby's total egotism and obsession is such that we are left unsure of what he is capable of doing next, which makes for a great reading ride.

The ending wasn't what I expected it to be, and I can't decide if I feel a little cheated by it or not - the jury is out on that one.

This was my first Murdoch, and clearly she was a supremely gifted writer. This wasn't a take-to-your-heart type of novel, but more of a can't-put-down-literary-car-crash that I almost read peeping through my fingers. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (after a week of labouring through the first part), but I'm glad it's finished.

Would I read it again? Yes, definitely. Perhaps that's the skill of Murdoch as a writer - she puts you into a total discomfort zone as a reader which confuses the equilibrium somewhat.

4 stars - some marks deducted for a long drawn out start, but such startling characterisation and outright weirdness make this a great read (eventually). ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Jun 7, 2017 |
Another reviewer found himself 'repulsed' and this book is repulsive, definitely. Charles Arrowby is repulsive and makes me shudder and I couldn't stand him from the start. As in [b:The Black Prince|120182|The Black Prince|Iris Murdoch|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1422802904s/120182.jpg|892836] we've got an unreliable narrator with a very twisted and selfish agenda who constantly thinks his behaviour is in the right. Now, Murdoch is pretty fantastic about making their instability clear without compromising the fact that this is first-person narration and they aren't going to tell us directly how dangerous they are to those around them. They constantly justify their actions and cast off things lightly that are setting warning bells off in my head.

I had to take a break from this novel. In part because I couldn't stand Charles, he reminded me of someone I once knew who used the same tactics of manipulation and entrapment on me, and in part because it seemed a little too like The Black Prince and so I wasn't feeling especially curious about it. This was exacerbated by the fact I was also reading [b:The Line of Beauty|139087|The Line of Beauty|Alan Hollinghurst|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1172099924s/139087.jpg|918312] which, after two Hollinghurst novels, also felt terribly repetitive and left me in a restless mood for something fresh instead. Still, I came back and it didn't get any easier, really, as Charles' manipulation only got worse and that first motive for stopping persisted, but I just had to know what happened. It seems clear to me that Murdoch must have observed people like him, what with the behaviours he performs. Hiding the car out of sight so that Mary wouldn't believe it was an available option to return home by made me so uncomfortable. Being denied transportation, being denied a way out, rang familiar. That was an obvious one, but there were smaller ways too. He takes her basket in the church, it's got her shopping in it, he mentions it off-hand almost like he's just being a gentleman, but it holds her there because it's not like she's going to leave without the basket, and it's manipulation played off as generosity. It's the kind of thing that leaves the victim feeling guilty or ungrateful or whatever. I could not get past this and I think it'll take me a bit of time to get Arrowby out of my head. I hated that he was narrating, that his voice was always there for five hundred pages, because it felt like he had his hands all over me.

I loved the presence of the sea, though, and I liked how there was enough of James to make you want more (while knowing more would've made it too much about him). I'm very curious to read a Murdoch with a main female character and narrator, if there are some, because obviously writing unlikeable people is Murdoch's forte. The male leads in the two Murdoch books I've read are misogynists, low-key self-hating probable-homosexuals, and women told through their view just don't make sense to me and don't seem like real women at all. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
This was a difficult book, mostly because of the protagonist Charles Arrowby, who seems to be egotistical and blind to others, inciting one to rage at his behavior. Nonetheless he keeps your attention, with his odd food preferences and diktats, and with his mad obsession with a love from his childhood, whom he meets by chance when he retires to the seaside. Charles is a famous director in the London theater, and, despite his assertion that he never loved anyone after his schoolboy crush on Hartley, a womanizer and marriage wrecker. He buys a house for retirement on a remote promontory on the northwest coast of England, complete with a tower, and a natural bridge over the tidal pools. At the beginning of the novel he writes to a former lover, who he suspects would still run to him, and he is proved right, but succeeds in breaking her new relationship with another actor. That actor comes to be a sort of butler for Charles at some point in the book. Charles, in his obsession with Hartley, contrives to get her to the house and keeps her there for days under lock, assuming she will abandon her husband for him; she is now old and not very attractive. His brother, an officer in India, involved in Tibetan espionage and meditation, arrives, and will eventually save Charles, and give him his fortune. The bare outlines of the plot do nothing to suggest the deep complexities of the characters, and of the writing and allusions in the book. It would have been hard to push through this except that I was confined on a long air trip. ( )
  neurodrew | Feb 12, 2017 |
What was this about? "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 evolve . . . ." ( )
  jack2410 | Feb 2, 2017 |
I wish I could gvie this amazing book an extra half star. It's infuriating-ness, if that is even a word, made me unable to give it a rave. But I did love it. The descriptions of both the interiors and the landscapes were incredible, the narration most unreliable, and the story told with a bizarre mix of boredom and excitement. I still can't figure out if the narrator was completely delusional to the end or whether the whole novel was about a search for truth and a loss of ego in almost a Buddhist way. Mind boggling. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (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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Epigraph
Dedication
To Rosemary Cramp
First words
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.
Haiku summary

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:05 -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 3 descriptions

Legacy Library: Iris Murdoch

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