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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
3,8001201,367 (3.48)1 / 347
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 (112)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (119)
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
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 |
self-absorbed and trite. did not finish. ( )
  tarshaan | Jul 17, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Intro

I was compelled to read this immediately after finishing Never Let Me Go. Call me a rabid fan of the novel, yes. I admit it. I have no shame. And I cannot believe why it did not win the Booker Prize of 2005.

And this, The Sea, written by an unknown writer to me back then, was chosen by that year’s jury as the winner. Of course I was intrigued. I am glad I have a copy, a mass market I bought four years ago at regular price. I am not sure why I didn’t immediately read it. I was not a voracious reader four years ago. All I know is that had it not been a Booker winner, I wouldn’t have hoarded it.

So you might be expecting to read at least a couple of bad things from me about it, yes?

The Rhapsody

No. I love The Sea. I love the language. If you ask me, it’s more of a book of poetry than a novel. Wait, let us correct that. It is a novel of poetry.

The reader is immersed in the beautiful words that the narrator uses. His name is Max, an art historian. So that explains it. You can expect beautiful storytelling from the point of view of an artist. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is not counted, but let’s not talk about that.

So what is this all about? It’s a novel of a man’s recollection of his holiday when he was a child in a town by the sea. He either draws or is drawn by the fraternal twins Chloe and Myles, who are more aptly described as polar twins because of their vast differences. The former is a strong-headed, willful girl while the latter is an uninteresting boy who deliberately keeps his mouth shut.

And there are the twin’s parents who have the means to live a worldly life. This makes Max almost wish to be a part of this family because of his own poverty. Well, he is not poor poor, but you know, he couldn’t afford to live the lives that this family is living.

And what else? I really cannot recall. And how could I daresay that this is a novel worth reading? If you really want to know, this novel is not read because of the plot or the characters. Really, nothing is going on like in one of those Dan Brown novels. But there are subtle developments. There are hints of haunting and melancholy dropped here and there. One just needs to keep an open ear to hear those, like leaves falling from the reaching branch of a sheltering tree. One can flip the pages of this book, pick a few random lines, and love it just the same.

Okay, so let us test that practice:

It was her special gift, the disenchanted, disenchanting, eye. I am thinking of the photographs she took in the hospital, at the end, at the beginning of the end, when she was still undergoing treatment and had strength enough to get up from her bed unaided. She had Claire search out her camera, it was years since she had used it. The prospect of this return to an old obsession gave me a strong yet unaccountable sense of foreboding. I found disturbing too, although again I could not have said exactly why, the fact that it was Claire, and not I, whom she had asked to fetch the camera, and in the tacit understanding, furthermore, that I was not to hear of it. What did it mean, all this secrecy and hugger-mugger?

Please don’t ask me who Claire is. It could be his wife or daughter or mom. Anyway, I’d like to flip the book again, one more time.

In those endless October nights, lying side by side in the darkness, toppled statues of ourselves, we sought escape from an intolerable present in the only tense possible, the past, that is, the faraway past. We went back over our earliest days together, reminding, correcting, helping each other, like two ancients tottering arm-in-arm along the ramparts of a town where they had once lived, long ago.

Sensuous! I saw, in my mind’s eye, the two “toppled statues.” In this passage, we see that Banville does not write to impress, which some haters accuse him of. He writes with precision, making sure that the words are not wasted, the commas correctly placed, the sentences assuming a lyrical form. This talent cannot be neglected.

And if one cannot hear the music in these random paragraphs, he is deaf to the melody of literature.

Final Notes

I think that Banville deserves the 2005 Booker. Tough luck for Ishiguro, but not so tough because he already have his Booker for The Remains of the Day and film adaptations for two of his novels, which feature some of the film industry’s finer actors and actresses.

But after I finished it, I felt that the events that took hold of the twin’s lives is senseless. I didn’t get why they did what they did. It’s dumbfoundlingly tragic, sublimely shocking, profoundly disarming. Just like that.

And I can’t help flipping the pages all over again. It makes me want to reread it immediately, but no, I have to fight against it. I’ll just finish this with this last clip that I caught, a passage that I, coincidentally, like and which pretty much sums up the novel:

And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet. ( )
1 vote angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
This short novel by John Banville is a character-centered "literary" production. Max Morden, in whose voice the entire text is recounted, is recently widowed, and coming to grips with mortality in ways that are gradually revealed to be anything but indirect. His reminiscences form much of the substance of the story, so that it is told backwards and forwards until the pieces join.

The sea of the title is probably death, figured recurrently by the actual sea in the coastal village of the story. The village was the site of a notable family vacation in his childhood, and there are thus four temporal orbits for his memory and attention: the childhood vacation, his marriage, his wife's terminal illness, and the present retreat for his grief.

There are some quasi-theological (atheological?) elements in the story, which opens with the declaration, "They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide" (3). Much later, Morden remarks, "I do not entertain the possibility of an afterlife, or any deity capable of offering it. Given the world that he created, it would be an impiety against God to believe in him" (137). But there's no disbelieving in the sea.

Banville's prose deserves the awards that it has won. It is rich and revealing, and deeply personal, so that the unreliability of Morden's account is securely bound up with his cares and character. "I think I am becoming my own ghost," he says (144), and The Sea is certainly a novel capable of haunting readers.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | May 27, 2014 |
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.
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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