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The Sea, the Sea (1978)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,072843,347 (3.93)1 / 410
The sea: turbulent and leaden, transparent and opaque, magician and mother... When Charles Arrowby, over sixty, a demi god of the theatre -- director, playwright and actor -- retires from his glittering London world in order to 'abjure magic and become a hermit', it is to the sea that he turns. He hopes at least to escape from 'the woman' -- but unexpectedly meets one whom he loved long ago. His buddhist cousin, James, also arrives. he is menaced by a monster from the deep. Charles finds his 'solitude' peopled by the drama of his own fantasies and obsessions. "From the Trade Paperback edition."… (more)
  1. 21
    The Bell by Iris Murdoch (Booksloth)
  2. 32
    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.
  3. 01
    Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (PilgrimJess)
    PilgrimJess: Another book that looks at obsessive love.
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English (78)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  All languages (84)
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
Charles Arrowby, a retired theatre director, decides to buy a house by the sea as an idyllic, solitary retreat to write his memoir. At first, all is well. Charles happily writes about his meals (best part of the book) with painstaking detail, and swims in the sea. His happy retreat is soon thwarted after he briefly glimpses his childhood love, Hartley - and abruptly descends into comical desperation when his friends quickly appear at his house, uninvited, and stay. He soon hatches a mad plan to get Hartley away from her husband, and in doing so gradually descends into chaos, blurring the boundaries between truth and fiction, desire and madness.

The general theme of Main Character (Usually Male) Trying to Lead his Own Life While Friends/Lover/Jealous Ex-Lover Continue to Pester Him (often with unexpectedly hilarious consequences) seem to feature in her books so frequently (The Black Prince has a similar theme) that I suspect that it must be some sort of running gag for her and her fans. ( )
  georgeybataille | Jun 1, 2021 |
What a fascinating read. A famous director retires to a house in an English village on the sea. The book is structured as his memoir and tells of his obsession with his first love who coincidentally lives in the same village, of his muddled relationships with other women, of his confused relationship with his male friends, and more. His narcissistic arrogance becomes his downfall. Tragedies ensue, love is thwarted, death is confronted, and life is contemplated. Ultimately, he finds peace in old age. A thread of Buddhism runs through the story, as well as the power of the ocean as friend and foe. The writing is crisp, witty, poignant, and maintains a sense of mystery throughout. Ah, we humans are such interesting fools, aren't we? ( )
  hemlokgang | Apr 11, 2021 |
I found this really hard going in the middle part of the book, partly due to the repetitiveness of the narrative and the cloying pursuit of a really uninteresting wet fish of a character. Enough, already, and could this part of the story not have been told in a less annoying manner? In hindsight, this was a thoughtful book, with some really interesting ideas and I think the author quite deliberately sets us on a path to feel it all. Self deception, obsession, desire, metaphysics, attachment, the tangled mess of our identities and egos, - this book has a wonderful set of intermingled themes running through it. We define our own realities and looking back as a reader watching Charles, the narrator, stream his view of this journey as his life nears a close, is pretty profound.

And through it all, James as a character kept me reading through the hardest slogging. I'm glad I stuck with it. ( )
  porte01 | Jan 25, 2021 |
Booker Prize winning novel by Iris Murdoch. It is a good one. The Sea, the Sea, why the title. Accordingly it is from the cry of the Greeks in the Persian war when they sighted sea water. This is also referenced by Jules Verne in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The sea does play a significant roll in this large book. The first paragraph is a description of the sea (written beautifully) but the second paragraph casts the hook. What, what? we ask. The story is the memoir of a retired theater director with the largest ego ever. He has retired and moved to this strange house on this rocky spot in the north sea. The story starts out with him being quite alone but then all or a lot of the people from his past start trooping in either in groups or one by one.

I found the main character to be absolutely maddening. He is totally full of himself, detestable and the way he treats or thinks of women is deplorable. He is irritating. And does he grow at all in this novel? Maybe, maybe. This is a long book 500 plus pages but it is easy to read and goes along at a good clip, as fast as the crashing waves hitting the rocks of Charles Arrowby's home. The book is about obsession and the delusion that we can create out of our memories especially if we are 100% self-absorbed. ( )
  Kristelh | Dec 23, 2020 |
My copy of Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea features this blurb on the cover: “A rich, crowded, magical love story.” At first glance, the aptest word here is “crowded.”

Theatre professional Charles Arrowby has retired to a tiny village on an obscure northern coast of the U.K. He starts keeping a diary in his newly-purchased home, recounting his explorations of his little corner of rock and sea. But in no time at all, his secluded house is as crowded as the London he left behind: with old lovers, their jealous husbands, one runaway son, and mysterious cousin James.

I shouldn’t even begin to attempt to untangle the romantic mess Arrowby is in, but here’s the quick and dirty: it just so happens that his one childhood love is in the same village – with her bully of a husband. Arrowby’s plan to spirit her away turns into a three-ring circus fueled by obsession and wine. The only fully sane and serene person seems to be cousin James, who remains, unfortunately, on the periphery until the end.

All the different flavors of love found here, straight and gay, December and May, seem to dissolve like the sunset over the sea when faced with the unfaded brilliance of Arrowby’s childhood ties – to his first sweetheart, but also to his cousin.

It’s a compelling romp, and Murdoch writes Arrowby with tongue firmly in cheek. He’s the sort of fussy fellow who makes fun of his friends for their overblown ideas about love, then spouts his own a few pages later. But as the story careens like a drunken driver between comedy and tragedy, it actually does become rich, and yes, even magical. ( )
  stephkaye | Dec 14, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (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 (51 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iris Murdochprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barrs, NormanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burnside, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobi, DerekNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinzie, MaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kiuchi, TatsuroIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windfeld-Hansen, KarinaTranslatorsecondary 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.
Quotations
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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The sea: turbulent and leaden, transparent and opaque, magician and mother... When Charles Arrowby, over sixty, a demi god of the theatre -- director, playwright and actor -- retires from his glittering London world in order to 'abjure magic and become a hermit', it is to the sea that he turns. He hopes at least to escape from 'the woman' -- but unexpectedly meets one whom he loved long ago. His buddhist cousin, James, also arrives. he is menaced by a monster from the deep. Charles finds his 'solitude' peopled by the drama of his own fantasies and obsessions. "From the Trade Paperback edition."

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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.
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Average: (3.93)
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