Summary and book reviews of The Sea by John Banville

The Sea

By John Banville

The Sea
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2005,
    195 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2006,
    208 pages.

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Book Summary

A luminous novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory.

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."

What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, vividly dramatic, beautifully written novel—among the finest we have had from this extraordinary writer.

Winner of the 2005 Booker Prize.

I


They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue and malignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves were depositing a fringe of soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no, not ever again.

Someone has just walked over my grave. Someone.




The name of the house is the Cedars, as of old....

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About This Book

In this hypnotic tour de force of mood, language, and psychological revelation, the Irish novelist tells the story of a bereaved man desperately sorting through the strands of his memory—the memories of his recent loss and those of the losses that came before it. Those various strands are by now so intertwined and tightly knotted that Max Morden doesn't know which of them causes him the greatest pain. But as Banville's sinuous narrative plays out, it becomes apparent that Morden is in danger of being strangled by his memories, especially by the ones he has invented. If one theme is most prominent in The Sea, it's the ...
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  • award image

    Man Booker Prize
    2005

Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - John Crowley

Banville's achievement seems remarkable to me. Banville appears to be fining down his writing to the central impulse of all his mature work, which he stated long ago in the extravagant Gothic tale Birchwood : "We imagine that we remember things as they were, while in fact all we carry into the future are fragments which reconstruct a wholly illusory past. The first death we witness will always be a murmur of voices down a corridor and a clock falling silent in the darkened room, the end of love is forever two cigarettes in a saucer and a white door closing.

Publishers Weekly

Like the strange high tide that figures into Max's visions and remembrances, this novel sweeps the reader into the inexorable waxing and waning of life.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

The novel is written in a complex, luminous prose that might strike some as occasionally overblown ... The result? A breathtaking but sometimes frustrating novel. Highly recommended.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Starred Review. Winner of the 2005 Booker Prize for Fiction, Irishman Banville's new book does more than simply explore a life. It explores life.

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Beyond the Book

The Booker Prize was established by the Booker McConnell company in 1969, and is  considered to be one of most important literary awards in the UK, if not the most important. In recent years it has been sponsored by the Man Group, an investment company, and thus is officially known as The Man Booker Prize, but is more often referred to simply as 'The Booker'.

Pierre Bonnard: Max has a tendency to muse over the paintings of Pierre Bonnard and in particular Bonnard's paintings ...

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