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The Sea by John Banville
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The Sea (original 2005; edition 2006)

by John Banville

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,8161221,358 (3.48)1 / 351
Member:Ireadthereforeiam
Title:The Sea
Authors:John Banville
Info:Vintage (2006), Paperback, 195 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Booker winner, grief, parenting, friendship

Work details

The Sea by John Banville (2005)

  1. 63
    On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (kiwiflowa, Smiler69)
    kiwiflowa: same introspective feel and prose etc
    Smiler69: Both are stories about people dealing with difficult feelings and situations, both beautifully told in gorgeous prose.
  2. 20
    Shroud by John Banville (ghefferon)
  3. 21
    Eclipse by John Banville (bergs47)
  4. 00
    The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (WSB7)
    WSB7: To me Banville's book deals with similar materials so much more effectively than James.
  5. 00
    Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (sek_smith)
  6. 00
    The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (bookmomo)
    bookmomo: Men looking back on their youth, similar issues with memories. Both beautiful reads.
  7. 22
    Collected Stories by William Trevor (chrisharpe)
  8. 01
    Eustace and Hilda: A Trilogy by L. P. Hartley (chrisharpe)
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English (116)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (123)
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The Sea (2005) is the eighteenth novel by Irish writer John Banville.
It won the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

It feels like a "reflective journal" as Max Morden copes with the present and the indelible effect of memories.
We encounter the distant past of Max’s childhood (summer at Cedars in Ballyless),the recent past of his wife’s illness and death, and the present of his return to Ballyless.

I chose audio and the Irish narrator was pleasant.
The audio, however, required constant attention as the narrative slips (not too seamlessly)through the three levels mentioned.

Here's a reviewer's note:
"these three settings are heavily diced and impromptly jumbled together for the novel's entire duration."
Well said!

It was beautifully written, (almost poetic in sound) but.........
....I'm not admitting how often I needed a dictionary
and I'm not admitting how often I needed to replay a segment to tease apart the "elegant rhetoric" and find the simplicity of the idea.

If you've read it, what did you think?. ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 14, 2015 |
There is the beauty of this book -- the watercolor writing that gives the slanted sunlight and cresting waves nuance and, often, intent; the presentation of the purity of youth, delighting in the salty softness of summertime sands and discovering the arresting humidity of puberty and sensuality; and the meandering reminiscences of the main character, Max Morden, who has come back to the seaside resort of his youth to understand who he is and, after the death of his wife, where he belongs. But then there is its brutality -- death and decay and depression and drunkenness; Max Morden's anger and repulsion at the gritty realities of life, from his wife's death to the realization that the physical of act of sex is sweaty and smelly and so far removed from that single moment of "instant divinity" when one finally touches a breast or touches the lips of a pretty girl. Then, of course, there is Max's constant, nearly instinct-driven journey toward his own death and destruction, rejecting all manner of love and acceptance along the way.


The Sea, by John Banville, was the Man Booker prize winner in 2005. Understanably, it garnered massive praise. But it is a complex, often deadly cold tale that requires a detachment in the reader to fully appreciate the work and to step back to gather in its breadth. It also takes some patience, because Banville's brilliant writing is almost undone by his sophomoric use of names and symbols to underscore his meaning. To wit, the word "morden" in German means to kill or to end life, which is Max's apparent life-goal, at least as far as his own life is concerned. Giving the character the name "max" makes it only worse. The visiting family in the seaside resort are the Grace family -- the source of Max's fascination with daughter Chloe, her mother, and even the governess, Rose. Max indeeds finds grace in the lips and scent of Chloe, and in the upskirt views that her mother offers Max. And then there is the color blue which the author hits us repeatedly over the head with, blue as in sea, light, air, breath, etc


But that aside, Bannville offers a look into a character type that lives for that perfect moment of glee -- discovery, awareness, delight -- but then shuffles off into hiding when it realizes that extending the moment requires hard work, defeat, assertiveness, and, well, living. Max falls in schoolboy love with Chloe's mother, and reaches near ecstasy when she gives him a look at her private regions, but then feels instantly used, even taken advantage of. Same with Chloe, a nymph of the sea who he dislikes and bashes mere moments after he kisses her lips and declares his love for her.


Bu the again, he is that type of man. He aches for his own demise. He will not accept his dying wife's admonitions to just go out and live. He is eternally caught in a threesome, whether with the Graces, or Chloe and her twin, or even with his landlady and the aging fellow boarder. But stepping out of that role would nearly sicken him -- he is more a leech, a sucker (and harsh judger of life) than an active participant. Deep in his soul, at least as a youngster, he sought consummation, but found that consummation was complicated. In reading this book I wonder if Bannville is aiming at male egos, always eager for the hunt and the capture, but bored with the aftermath. Max is surrounded by big, powerful women, many of whom seem to know themselves (and can see through him). And he realizes very late that two of his apparent male "conquests" -- one with Mrs. grace and one with the aging landlady-- were simply elements of lesbian love that he just downright misinterpreted.

Three stars is the best I can do, ( )
  rongeigle | Dec 29, 2014 |
Lovely writing, if a bit pretentious and precious. I actually tweeted a sentence I found hard to believe. "The woman dips her fingertips in the font, mingling traces of tenacious love-juice with the holy water." Bleurg. ( )
  KymmAC | Dec 26, 2014 |
I'm not sure I know what to make of it. The writing is intensely beautiful but the story and characters so dark and disturbing. The narrator seems to move back and forth in the two tragedies he is trying to understand or come to terms with or even just wallow in one last time but never actually gives me any feeling of a hopeful future life for himself. Well-written and worth reading but ultimately very depressing.
  amyem58 | Nov 18, 2014 |
Gorgeous writing; a beautiful, elegiac, deeply felt tale. The most touching bood ever. Any further description would do a disservice to this wonderful book. ( )
  DougJ110 | Aug 23, 2014 |
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Book description
The narrator is Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who, soon after his wife's death, has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidaysd as a child-a retreat from the grief, anger, and numbness of his life without her, But it is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled vacationing family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. The seductive mother; the imperious father; the twins-Chloe, fiery and forthright,m and Myles, silent and expressionless-in whose mysterious connection Max became profoundly entangled, each of them a part of the 'barely bearable raw immediacy" of his childhood memories. Interwoven with this story are Morden's memories of his wife, Anna-of their life together, of her death- and the moments, both significant and mundane, that make up his life now: his relationship with his grown daughter, Claire, desperate to pull him from his grief; amd with the other boarders at the house where he is staying, where the past beats inside him "like a second heart." What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of the elegiac, vividly dramatic, beautifully written novel-among the finest we have had from this extraordinary writer. 210
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307263118, Hardcover)

Incandescent prose. Beautifully textured characterisation. Transparent narratives. The adjectives to describe the writing of John Banville are all affirmative, and The Sea is a ringing affirmation of all his best qualities. His publishers are claiming that this novel by the Booker-shortlisted author is his finest yet, and while that claim may have an element of hyperbole, there is no denying that this perfectly balanced book is among the writer’s most accomplished work.

Max Morden has reached a crossroads in his life, and is trying hard to deal with several disturbing things. A recent loss is still taking its toll on him, and a trauma in his past is similarly proving hard to deal with. He decides that he will return to a town on the coast at which he spent a memorable holiday when a boy. His memory of that time devolves on the charismatic Grace family, particularly the seductive twins Myles and Chloe. In a very short time, Max found himself drawn into a strange relationship with them, and pursuant events left their mark on him for the rest of his life. But will he be able to exorcise those memories of the past?

The fashion in which John Banville draws the reader into this hypnotic and disturbing world is non pareil, and the very complex relationships between his brilliantly delineated cast of characters are orchestrated with a master’s skill. As in such books as Shroud and The Book of Evidence, the author eschews the obvious at all times, and the narrative is delivered with subtlety and understatement. The genuine moments of drama, when they do occur, are commensurately more powerful. --Barry Forshaw

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:35 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"The narrator is Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who, soon after his wife's death, has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child - a retreat from the grief, anger, and numbness of his life without her. But it is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled vacationing family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. The seductive mother; the imperious father; the twins - Chloe, fiery and forthright, and Myles, silent and expressionless - in whose mysterious connection Max became profoundly entangled, each of them a part of the "barely bearable raw immediacy" of his childhood memories." "Interwoven with this story are Morden's memories of his wife, Anna - of their life together, of her death - and the moments, both significant and mundane, that make up his life now: his relationship with his grown daughter, Claire, desperate to pull him from his grief; and with the other boarders at the house where he is staying, where the past beats inside him "like a second heart.""--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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