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The Sea [Paperback]

John Banville
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 15 2006 Vintage International
In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel — among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Banville's magnificent new novel, which won this year's Man Booker Prize and is being rushed into print by Knopf, presents a man mourning his wife's recent death—and his blighted life. "The past beats inside me like a second heart," observes Max Morden early on, and his return to the seaside resort where he lost his innocence gradually yields the objects of his nostalgia. Max's thoughts glide swiftly between the events of his wife's final illness and the formative summer, 50 years past, when the Grace family—father, mother and twins Chloe and Myles—lived in a villa in the seaside town where Max and his quarreling parents rented a dismal "chalet." Banville seamlessly juxtaposes Max's youth and age, and each scene is rendered with the intense visual acuity of a photograph ("the mud shone blue as a new bruise"). As in all Banville novels, things are not what they seem. Max's cruelly capricious complicity in the sad history that unfolds, and the facts kept hidden from the reader until the shocking denouement, brilliantly dramatize the unpredictability of life and the incomprehensibility of death. 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. (Nov. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Drifting among Dimensions of Reality and Thought, July 15 2006
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The Sea will either delight or aggravate you. Some may experience both reactions.

The delight will come from finding a surprising word choice or unexpected detail on almost every page, the unusual development of the plot and the rapid shifts between thought, memory, perception, desire, musing and reflection. For some, the fresh descriptions of male sexual awakening will also be sweet.

The aggravation will come from realizing that the story could have been told more directly. You will also feel yourself being manipulated quite often. The word choices could have been more direct. The surprises on each page become almost mechanical after awhile. Deal with the aggravation is my advice. Otherwise, you'll miss the chance to see how often you jump to unwarranted conclusions. Reading this novel is like holding up a mirror to see your mind's perceptions and prejudices.

You won't realize much of the book's power until you're done. If you are like me, you'll immediately want to read it again.

The story takes place while Max Morden recovers emotionally from his wife's untimely death from a wasting illness. Uncharacteristically, Morden avoids family and friends to be quite alone most of the day while staying in a run-down rooming house where he experienced many delights as a youngster. Being there brings up many memories of the Grace family . . . surely a metaphor for inspiration in this lover of Bonnard. You'll find yourself drawn into those long-ago memories as well as Morden's unhappy reaction to his wife's loss. But you'll also know that there's an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Gradually, all will become clear through the mental peregrinations of Morden.

I don't remember stream of consciousness done in sentences in quite as interesting a way as Mr.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Complicated beauty March 12 2006
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I just read this book for my book club and I was one of the only ones who enjoyed this book! Most of the people in my club found the book too difficult to understand with its stream of consciousness style and extended metaphor (of the sea). I, on the other hand, paid far less attention to the plot itself and more to the writing. The writing is undeniably gorgeous; Banville is a wonderful writer and probably (Never Let Me Go was my first choice) deserved The Booker. The plot was good but I found Banville's characters cold. In a book about grief and memory one would expect emotional and sympathetic characters; that isn't the case in this book. The main character is strange and unlikeable and so are the members of the Grace family. I wasn't emotionally connected to a single one of these characters and was therefore emotionally absent myself when the ending (and the tragedy therein) arrived.
I recommend Never Let Me Go if you want to read the competition (for The Booker). This book also contains unemotional characters but they are not incongruent in the story like the characters in The Sea.
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5.0 out of 5 stars one for the ages May 29 2006
By Mr. PG
Format:Hardcover
The Sea is the only (as yet) book by Banville that I've read. Can't even remember where I picked up the recommendation, but this is a tremendous book. The cover describes Banville as today's Nabokov, but I heard definite echoes of Dickens, Joyce, and even Dylan Thomas.

Banville writes like Perlman plays the violin, except that, to reverse the simile, if Perlman played like Banville wrote, you would hear him play notes you've never heard before. Banville's prose is so good, and his love of English so obvious, that, perversely, one suspects that (like Conrad) it's not his first language. He's Irish, so maybe Gaelic came first? Anyway, you will encounter wonderful words, effortlessly used, that you've never seen before.

This isn't just a book; it's literature, and literature of the first rank. One for the ages, for sure.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lasting book to relish Aug. 13 2006
Format:Hardcover
THE SEA is an absolutely fantastic book, a tragic but beautiful short novel.Written in a rich but clear language, it takes the reader through a breath-taking journey that climaxes to a satisfying and surprising conclusion.Like all true great books, THE SEA is a novel you enjoy all the more as you read it again and again a couple of times.As gripping as NIGHT, far-reaching as USURPER AND OTHER STORIES,sobering as KITE RUNNER and deaspairingly hopeful as THE UNION MOUJIK, the story of THE SEA will stick in your mind long after you read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lasting book to relish March 16 2006
Format:Hardcover
THE SEA is an absolutely fantastic book, a tragic but beautiful short novel.Written in a rich but clear language, it takes the reader through a breath-taking journey that climaxes to a satisfying and surprising conclusion.Like all true great books, THE SEA is a novel you enjoy all the more as you read it again and again a couple of times.As gripping as NIGHT, far-reaching as USURPER AND OTHER STORIES,sobering as KITE RUNNER and deaspairingly hopeful as THE UNION MOUJIK, the story of THE SEA will stick in your mind long after you read it.
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