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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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2,170None2,988 (3.93)1 / 236
  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)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  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 |
Reading updates - June 2013
"Operation "I should have read a few more Booker winners by now" continues with this, which last seemed like a good idea for about 15 minutes in 2006 when I first bought it. It helps that the prose isn't actually nearly as dense as some of the modernist quotes people post on here. But now I've decided to read it I feel I must start ASAP (in preference to The Line of Beauty) so I don't lose my nerve." 3 comments
06/20 page 165
30.0% "So much noisier & more theatrical with the appearance of all these other characters. Keep thinking of It's Oh So Quiet, 8 1/2 and The Sense of an Ending. And in its way it's sort of nightmarish."
06/21 page 257
47.0% "At the moment it's not making me think about philosophy, but - given several characters involved in harassment and abusive relationships - about changes in the law & social attitudes over the last 35 years."
06/23 page 326
60.0% "I'd love to know what Murdoch had to say about this, and what people said about the book at the time. With a male narrator like an Amis creation, but apparently feminist undertones in the action it seems almost subtle for the late 70's." 5 comments

My comments (one side of a conversation)
I really like it so far.

whereas earlier, she was more of a novelist.
Interesting you should say that. In contrast with this book, almost all the first-person narrators I've read recently seem like a sort of mouthpiece for the author, or quite often simply contrived. This guy is completely real. Likewise Lizzie, who heard as herself in the letter, is too conflicted to stand for anything much - though Arrowby's view of her boils her down to another symbol.

I've never really been drawn to any other Murdoch books (this I bought in the aftermath of J due to apparently related themes) but if I continue to be so impressed, it will change my assumption that she was a dry, theory-driven writer. So I may be interested in reading more at some point and recommendations would be welcome. Philosophy has never held much appeal for me (which I put down to illness + work with people who are in poverty making all that "is life real?" stuff seem daft and irrelevant) but the Buddhist themes in The Sea, The Sea are interesting.

--
There seems to be a general difficulty around Murdoch's female characters implied in your comment there (or just in this book?). What is it said to be? That insistence that every work should contain a Strong Woman? All individual works should of course contain a particular archetype.

I am at the end of Ch.4 of the History section. So far the relevant strand of the story can be read as an illustration of causes & effects of a very long term abusive relationship and to address the "why did she stay?" question. (By use of "she" I don't mean to imply it's an exclusively female problem.) The gaping absence of a third alternative option, such as a refuge - perhaps because it did not exist in the locality but only in major cities, or because the characters are unaware of the existence of such places - seems to argue a need for it.

-----

I would have thought that Murdoch, being of an older generation would
a) be open to acknowledging that the type (of socially submissive woman) existed and continued to and
b) [complete guess] - perhaps because she had achieved success without or regardless of the "women's movement" did not see the need to join in with all its causes and would perhaps choose only those which seemed most necessary. Here, an individual who is undoubtedly oppressed, rather than more nebulous questions of representation in artworks.
(The latter point may be a lot of transference of tendencies in my own family however.)

There is an NYRB review from 1979, by a woman, of both this & Fay Weldon's Praxis but unfortunately most of it's only visible to subscribers. It could be very interesting. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi...

ETA. Also just remembered (as I also thought near the beginning) that - at least so far in this book - she doesn't show this submissiveness being rewarded or justified. It is a trait or tendency probably beyond reason, but on a rational level it's not worth it.

Also Arrowby's idolisation of Hartley mirrors it in a way, even if he sees himself as a fixer / rescuer - people seeing one another as gods, she says somewhere. Sadly never the same two people.

Perhaps tenuous but I wonder if there was anything to do with Irishness / Catholicism behind a motif of almost mystical devotion & sacrifice in her work.
---------

Other notes
female author 1st person male narrator - Clear by Nicola Barker All the drama feels more like university than over-60's Buddhist bits near the end Contrast with Jordison review - I like the dated bits (like with films) Just means you can't get away from yourself? And there's no point worshipping people? X is the centre of Y's universe. X reagards Y as okay/useful/with a mildly sneering indifference/ increasing irritation depending on how much Y asks. not unr narr as abt how ppl change & 100& self aw ( )
  antonomasia | Oct 18, 2013 |
The narrator of this book is a self-obsessed, arrogant man. As is typical of Murdoch's work, he is thoroughly unlikeable. This makes a hard slog, but the ending was so transcendent and eye-opening, I laughed out loud, I read parts to Phil, and I found myself debating whether two chapters made the whole book worthwhile. I haven't decided yet. I am certainly in awe of Murdoch's power, but might take a break from her for a while.

( )
1 vote annemlanderson | Mar 31, 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

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