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The Sea, the Sea (1978)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,593953,580 (3.93)2 / 467
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)
  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. 00
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (aprille)
    aprille: Obsession and an unreliable narrator
  4. 00
    The Tempest by William Shakespeare (aprille)
    aprille: Charles explicitly identifies with Prospero.
  5. 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 (87)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (95)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
Charles Arrowby, retired playwright, actor and director, purchases a lonesome home on the English seacoast. There he begins a diary in which he reflects back upon his life and the people he has known. Abruptly the novel then becomes like a bizarre episode of "This Is Your Life" as several of these people show up on his doorstep. Charles Arrowby handles himself with perfect aplomb, until the most unexpected person of all appears.

I can nearly relate to Charles' age, and certainly to his love for solitude. I hope I can't relate to his self-centeredness and insensitivity, his quick judgements that dismiss others as more shallow than himself. Other than his father there is no one he has revered, except for one woman - the one person he will only mention in passing and not write about at all. It is she who appears at last. If you can recall a moment of love in your life that went left instead of going right, this novel is largely stemming that moment. When an opportunity comes that feels like a second chance, what then? Strange things begin to happen in and around Charles' home. A sea monster surfaces on the ocean. Decorations tumble and self-destruct. A face appears in a window and then is gone. And Charles gets his second chance.

Charles is not a nice man. His explanations for his renewed obsession are more like rationalizations, and there's a clear hypocricy in his reasoning. So long as it is others who are feeling driven to approach him and he who wants nothing to do with them, his responses are merely loathsome and unvarnished. When the shoe is on the other foot, he expects to be granted his desire and becomes a threatening figure. Lizzie and Rosina are fascinating externalizations of his own emerging issues: his blind indulgence in love, his jealous anger and irrationalism.

Memories and dreams are his primary drivers - like the sea, a wide placid surface into which he dives and swims, a sea that lets him go only reluctantly, often threatening to drown him, sometimes surprising with what rises to the surface. Mortality and rejection conspire to confront him with his egotism, but he is not remorseful even when he comes closest to penetrating his own illusions: "We must live by the light of our own self-satisfaction, through that secret vital busy inwardness which is even more remarkable than our reason." What doesn't accord can be shied away from, and there are always other illusions to be had. ( )
  Cecrow | May 22, 2024 |
The world is a strange and beautiful and frightening and tragic and painful and unknown and banal and crowded place. There are old friends and enemies, unfamiliar new places, angry scenes and everyday meals. There is the weather. And also seals and sea monsters (maybe), and deaths, kidnapping and attempted murders (maybe). And love and desire too, of course, but often mixed with misunderstanding, jealousy, obsession and dependency in complicated combinations.

All of that is to say that 'The Sea, The Sea' represents all of the above in a story bordering on the quixotic and surreal in places, but is shot through with enough of the quotidian to keep it from slipping entirely into magical realism.

The writing seems effortless, the pages practically turn themselves, even in the first quarter or so of the book when nothing much seems to happen - as you would expect in a tiny coastal village - where the protagonist and narrator, a newly retired theatre director, tries to escape from his previous life. A revolving door cast of characters from that life then intrude, and the tone eventually becomes more frenetic, chaotic and eventually darker - even 'mad' - as our unreliable narrator falls into a whirlpool of his own fantasies and the unclear motives of others. Tragedy, reconciliations and betrayals bring the curtain down eventually, and the end peters out ambiguously.

Just like life. Brilliant. ( )
  breathslow | Jan 27, 2024 |
I knew nothing about this when I picked it up, other than it was famous. The cover said 'a rich, crowded, magical love story', but it is a twisted and painful tale of self delusion and cruelty. I guess it is a story that contains both magic and love, but that is not quite the same thing.

This book is 500 pages of living inside the head of Charles Arrowby. He is beautifully and painfully drawn, but deeply unlikable. Completely self obsessed, with no real model of how other people feel or want, he has bullied his way through his career in the theatre and now has retreated to the sea in retirement. A chance meeting with a long lost person from his childhood tips him over into obsession, from which much tragedy results. He ends a little older, and a little wiser, but still oh so very Charles. ( )
  atreic | Sep 14, 2023 |
At first I didn't think that I was going to like this book but in the end it was a 4* read. The main character Charles was incredibly conceited! Despite the slow beginning and this obnoxious narrator, I became quite involved in the situation and characters. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
מסתבר שקראתי כבר לפני 45 שנה ופחות התלהבתי. שכחתי לגמרי והפעם התלהבתי יותר. מארג סבוך ומרתק של עלילה ותיאור של דמות מרתקת - המספר צ'רלס. נקרא בנשימה עצורה ובהתלהבות. הבעיה שבסוף אתה נשאר עם איזה חור, הן לגבי העלילה, זה מה שקרה? והן לגבי הפילוסופיה העמוקה יותר שמאחורי הסיפור - אז מה מורדוך באמת רוצה לומר? ולמרות האכזבה, ספר מורכב, ידעני ומופלא ( )
  amoskovacs | Mar 11, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (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 (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Murdoch, Irisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ascari, Fabriziosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baena i Garcia, LauraTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barrs, NormanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burnside, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, Richard E.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guastavino, Marta I.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobi, DerekNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DaisyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinzie, MaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kiuchi, TatsuroIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windfeld-Hansen, KarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Rosemary Cramp
First words
The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine.
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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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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.

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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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Legacy Library: Iris Murdoch

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