From the book jacket:
The narrator is Max Morden, a middle-aged
Irishman who, soon after his wife's death,
has gone back to the seaside town in Ireland
where he spent his summer holidays as a
childa 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 twinsChloe, fiery and
forthright, and Myles, silent and
expressionlessin whose mysterious
connection Max became profoundly entangled,
each of them a part of the "barely bearable
raw immediacy" of his childhood memories.
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.
The Sea was published in Britain in June 2005 and originally scheduled for release in the USA sometime in early 2006, but after winning the 2005 Booker Prize, publication in the USA was brought forward to November 2005 (with the paperback released this week).
Virtually all USA reviews for The Sea are glowing (the exception being Michiko Kakutani writing for the New York Times who described it "as a stilted, claustrophobic and numbingly pretentious tale about an aging widower revisiting his past" - I'm told that authors and publishers alike quake at the knees when they hear Kakutani is going to be reviewing one of their books, as she is known for having, and expressing, very strong opinions!)
However, probably without exception the reviews were written after the Booker Prize was announced, so just in case opinions were skewed by the afterglow of winning this prestigious award, I researched the UK reviews which were written much earlier, and could not find a negative voice.
Superficially, The Sea bears some similarity to Rules for Old Men Waiting (see above) in that they are both written from the perspective of a recently widowed man of certain years looking back on his life in a tale that is more about thought than action, but Banville, the much more experienced writer, builds in a degree of drama that is missing from Pounceys' novel, by seamlessly moving between Max's past and present, building in a degree of confrontation to balance the "moments of stillness".
"With his fastidious wit and exquisite style, John Banville is the heir to Nabokov....his best novel so far" - The Daily Telegraph.
"It is a brilliant, sensuous, discombobulating novel" - The Spectator.
"There is so much to applaud in this book that it deserves more than one reading." - The Literary Review.
"Everything in Banville's books is alive. Bleakly elegant, he is a writer's writer, a new Henry Green.." - The Independent.
"The Sea does more than simply explore a life. It explores life." - Booklist
As always, you can judge for yourself by reading the excerpt at BookBrowse.
This review was originally published in January 2006, and has been updated for the August 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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