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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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2,281502,800 (3.92)1 / 300
  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 (45)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
Charles Arrowby retires from the theater where he was a moderately successful actor and a wildly successful director, buys a creepy old house by the wild and indifferent sea, with plans to write a memoir of his great love affair with the actress Clement Makin. A series of odd events, including an unlikely encounter with a childhood friend and sweetheart, and visitations from London friends who just can't let him retire in peace all divert him from his plans. At times passionately suspenseful, at other times meandering and slow, the novel explores "the inward ravages of jealousy, remorse, fear and the consciousness of irretrievable moral failure." Charles acknowledges that he is an egoist and his unremittingly flawed nature renders him a paradoxically reliable narrator. He is, after all, writing a memoir and we are to believe that the narrative we're reading is a faithful diary of his experiences in the months after moving to the vaguely haunted house by the sea. Paranoid distortions abound, no doubt, but he believes them so wholeheartedly and only occasionally suggests that his interpretations of situations might be colored by his obsessive tendencies, not to mention the fact that he drinks like a fish. Again, these sly glimpses of self-awareness render him credible as a witness and tangible as a character. Reading the novel, I was frequently reminded of the experience of attending the theater: I never forgot where I was but I was perfectly happy to suspend my disbelief and see where Charles' madness would lead.

The novel requires some dedication but the rewards of Murdoch's writing are worth the concentration. Her use of imagery, metaphor, and allusion is so sophisticated: at times subtle, at times so blatant as to be self-mocking. I googled terms and references to history or mythology or literature more than once and was happy to do so. Truly, reading this novel was an intellectual delight. ( )
1 vote EBT1002 | Aug 25, 2015 |
I am not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what I got wasn’t it. The characterization is effective and memorable (despite the fact that I couldn't particularly find much to like about any of said characters), and Murdoch’s descriptive writing is often magical. The story felt to me like a farce devoid of wit and humor… like seeing the characters from A Long Day’s Journey into Night magically transported into a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest.

This is a book about obsession, about “fantasists” who live in a reality all their own, and about the people who enable them. We can tell almost immediately that our narrator is profoundly unreliable, and you have to read just about every paragraph of the book with this in mind. It doesn’t take long to see that he is also really quite a jerk, although in the end perhaps a pathetic one. ( )
  clong | Aug 23, 2015 |
The Sea, The Sea is a first person narrative in a sort of diary/autobiography form written by Charles Arrowby, a retired theater actor and director. Charles leaves London to move to a seaside town in a decrepit old house. There he meets his long lost high school sweetheart who he seems to have idolized all his life but lost touch with when she ran away from the prospect of marrying him in their teenage years. Now he happens upon her, probably 40 plus years later, also retired to this seaside town but with her husband.

Charles quickly becomes obsessed with the idea of rescuing Mary, who he insists on calling by her childhood nickname of Hartley (her surname) even though she obviously has never gone by it as an adult, from her abusive husband. Well, abusive from Charles's reading of the situation. It ends up highly questionable who is the more abusive to Mary between Charles and her husband, Ben.

Added in to this volatile situation are a string of house guests who descend upon Charles. There are several of his former lovers, a few theater friends, his cousin James, and Mary's adopted son, Titus, who Charles tries to get close to probably as a way to get closer to Mary.

This was one of those book where I really detested the first person narrator. Charles is a pretty despicable person and treats Mary and his friends abominably. However, Murdoch's writing really saves the book because as much as I disliked Charles I still was pretty fascinated by what he was doing and how he was reacting. I could see through his explanations of his behavior and his pseudo-psychology about his own actions, and I think this was intended by Murdoch. Also, her descriptions of the sea and the other characters through Charles's voice were examples of some truly beautiful writing.

Overall, I come away from this with a similar feeling to reading The Bell, the only other book by Murdoch I've read. I'm intrigued by her writing, but felt that both books had some flaws. Her writing is so surprising, though, and different than what I expect as I'm reading along that I still want to read more of her work. There is something about her books that I really like despite being annoyed at points by both books. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | May 23, 2015 |
Now this was good, an excellent novel which, if it wasn’t quite as long as it is, could be read several times in order to savour every last bit of meaning from its carefully constructed prose. What is it about? Well, lots of things, but mostly what it’s like to be human and subject to the whims and fancies of the heart. There’s a strong element of spirituality throughout the novel too but the increases towards the end. And by the time I’d got there, I was really enjoying the writing.

Charles Arrowby has retired from a life in the theatre. He settles himself down in a somewhat malevolent house by the sea in a remote location. He thinks he’s left his past and his life in London behind but, unbeknown to him, he’s come closer to it than he at first realises. The village nearby holds someone who he thought he’d never see again and, when they meet, his entire world, and the rest of the novel, is turned upside down.

His London life almost literally moves in with him as various friends and ex-lovers turn up to help him through it all. Their roles are almost as fascinating as that of Charles himself who you can never quite bring yourself to sympathise with. He is obsessive and desperate and, if we’re honest, we’ll all recognise these qualities in ourselves to a greater or lesser extent. Maybe its the fact that you see yourself so accurately portrayed that you find yourself slipping so easily from sympathy to scorn as his behaviour becomes more and more extreme.

Murdoch does a great job in arraying around Charles a full range of humanity who all have their own take on how he should live the rest of his life and face the dilemma that is consuming him. Again, you are able to reflect on your own reactions to them, their advice and his response to it

And all the while the sea sits offshore brooding and the house plays its tricks on him. The esoteric takes on a much stronger role as the novel nears its completion especially with the increasingly important role of his cousin James who, in himself, is one very enigmatic character who is drawn, but only very softly, in 4B pencil.

Coming after the atrocious Citadel and before the fairly tame The Marriage Plot which I’m now reading, the sublime writing of Murdoch stands out even more than it would have done. Here we have a great novelist writing a very complex novel which, on the surface, can be taken as a simple story. At the same time, you know that there are a warren of other alleys you could explore in the writing. It’s this multi-layered aspect which makes you realise you are in the presence of someone who, unlike Kate Mosse, deserves the title of author and a prize like the Booker. ( )
  arukiyomi | Feb 27, 2015 |
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, that he doesn't at base 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (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.
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 4 descriptions

Legacy Library: Iris Murdoch

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