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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Visual internal dialogue Nov. 12 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Saw the film at TIFF....lived up to the book...which is saying something...not an easy book to transfer to film...the movie made me want to read it....glad I did...
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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 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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars The Unfulfilled Life June 24 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The Irish writer, John Banville, has written a pensive story about a middle-age man, Max Morden, who desperately returns to a favourite childhood spot as a means of finding solace and making sense of his wife's Anna's premature death. Mired in grief, he reaches out to some relationships in his past that will help him make sense of his present loss. Much of the early part of the story focuses on his return to a boarding house on a popular stretch of beach where he once, as a young teen, formed an intimate but strange relationship with two young members of the Grace family who had been holidaying there. Max chums around with them and gradually enters their lives through a brief bu complicated friendship where the Grace twins, Chloe and Myles, try to run his life by manipulating his emotions. While a young Max develops affections for Chloe, she proves flighty, mysterious and elusive as she flaunts her ties with her twin, Myles. As Banville explores this particular setting of Morden's past, other experiences pop up from his often stormy marriage to Anna that only tend to only reinforce his sense of loss and remorse. The reader learns of other memories that show this relationship to be anything but fulfilling. Morden is a prisoner to the tyranny of other people's desires to emotionally control him. A journey into the sojourns of his past, through both his immediate and distant memories, confirm that there are more questions than answers being raised in the process of discovery. As he can no longer control his fading past, he is left to be consumed by the very real existential grief of the present. He has even fallen out with his only daughter, Claire, as she struggles with her own growing sense of despair and uncertainty. Read more ›
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