The Sea

Thoughts   The Sea by John Banville, Vintage Books 2006 (orig 2005), 195 pages, Winner of the Man Booker Prize

I loved this book.

Yet, is it true?   I only gave it 4 stars?!   Yes, I had to discount it one star because I was mad at it that it wouldn’t be finished in the year 2010 and cost me the completion of the What’s In a Name 3 Challenge.    I was mad at it because I had to look up a new-to-me word on every other page.   I dislike the uneasy idea that I lurve books that make me feel stupid and thus smarter because I am thus challenging myself to something ‘deep’ and to look up vocabulary.   SO there.

I was hooked and mesmorized by this book after the first page!   This book told me that I crave prose that is lush and confusing.   That I need to have THOUGHT-y books in my reading appetite;  books that are all in someone’s head, reflecting on life’s crap-filled past futures and present, with many a sentence fragments and/or multiple descriptors and then some.  Oh yea, bring it on.

This little bit is from the very first page, the first two paragraphs:

“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.”

Even now, knowing now what I didn’t know then, I am still pulled by this imagery.   I see SPOILERS!!   (oops)   FORESHADOWING!     and yet, I am still puzzled.*

What exactly makes this stuff something I like?   Is it really any GOOD?    Sure, are not my own aesthetics and opinions the only ones that matter?   How could I be so entranced by Banville’s Sea and yet, have a serious dislike of Nabokov (Banville reminds me of Nabokov;  or was it just the comparison made by The Sunday Telegraph on the back of the book blurb)?   How come so many others thought this book dull and I found it captivating in its contemplative quietness?

So, if you don’t like books like this, move along.   Go ahead and read all the negative reviews on goodreads.   I laugh HA HA!  at those people that think Mr. Banville is pretentious and show-offy.    Yea, I suppose...   The guy does have an incredible vocabulary – I say he has a right to use it.     [I would really hate to eavesdrop on a conversation between him and Martin Amis.   English?!  on which planet?]

I was sucked into this book and felt it.    The imagery, the soft colors, the muted tones.   The emotions;   young love, first kiss, the questions, the fear and the passion.   Heavy angry grief.

MOTIVATION for READING:   I have mentioned more times than you really care to be reminded of that this was for the What’s in a Name 3 Challenge but that does not explain why THIS book for THAT category (body of water).    I originally wanted to read this book because of Dewey.   And now I’m getting all emotional and sad.   Did Dewey review this?    Maybe; I have lost that link already.    Here’s the chain of events:     Dewey reviewed Christine Falls written by Benjamin Black and offers it to send it to anyone who wants it and I win!   Soon after, we receive the sad news that Dewey is no longer with us.    I will always think of Dewey now, when I think of Banville.   (and books and Weekly Geeks** and the Read-A-Thon and I’ll shut up now) and when I only gave the Black mystery two stars (in a post that included vocabulary!), I committed to reading more by Banville to find out why/how he is so critically acclaimed;  I didn’t want my memories of Dewey tainted by a book I didn’t love.

I committed to reading The Sea in 2009 for the Dewey Challenge.   I failed it that year.   I committed to reading The Sea for 2010 and failed that, too.  (I finished it on January 6th.)    And, it’s OK. I think I needed this book to be more than a book.   It needs to be a memory, a token.***    Something that provokes me.    (I’m all teary right now being sad about Dewey.)

And I’m glad that I have found John Banville a place in my heart as a brilliant-to-me writer.   I’m grateful to the universe for making this a special read for me.   Aw hell, I’m going to re-rate it to 5 stars.   It’s personal.

Where was I?

pg 57  “There was a day when the door did open but it was Rose who came out,and gave me a look that made me lower my eyes and hurry on.  Yes, Rose had the measure of me from the start.  Still has, no doubt.”

HUH?   still has?  WHAT is going on!?

WHAT’s it ABOUT:      It’s about Max, whose wife has died.   To deal with his grief, he goes back to the seaside town he grew up in (or vacationed in? —  I was confused on this point.)    That’s pretty much it.      Mostly recent memories of his wife and her illness, the far past of his being a kid on the beach and the friends he made, his present – having to sort through all these difficult memories…   It’s almost a puzzle.    It definitely jumped around in time, a lot.   Confusingly.   I read the first 15 pages and then started over, I was so lost.    And Max wasn’t really a likable sort, either.

“Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, the will butting its blunt head against the world’s wall, suchlike, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit it, for cosiness. This is a surprising, not to say shocking, realisation. Before, I saw myself as something of a buccaneer, facing all-comers with a cutlass in my teeth, but now I am compelled to acknowledge that this was a delusion. To be concealed, protected, guarded, that is all I have ever truly ever wanted, to burrow down into a place of womby warmth and cower there, hidden from the sky’s indifferent gaze and the air’s harsh damagings. That is why the past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet.”

Please link over to these EXCELLENT REVIEWS:    Jules – also for the What’s in a Name 3 Challenge (“elegant and poetic style of writing”) ,  Incurable Logophilia (“…a good author to take slowly, and I liked being able to take up with the book a little each day and meander through his careful sentences.”), Matt’s Views at A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook (“…a book of portentous rhetoric, a story of a ravaged self in search of a reason to go on in life cloaked in beautifully and meditatively constructed sentences.”)

The more I reminisce about my reading of this novel, I am conflicted about wanting to read it again or only share with a friend.  Make them read it and then discuss, discuss, discuss.   I want to talk about symbols, foreshadowing, crazy words.   Maybe I should have made this one a book club book.   Aw, they would have hated it…

BE READY for the upcoming post of vocab words…


*  WHOSE grave!??!    I am still not sure about this…
** Sadly, I have not done a Weekly Geek post in months.
*** TOKEN as defined as “a thing serving as a visible or tangible representation of something abstract.” and “done for the sake of appearances or as a symbolic gesture”.


Copyright © 2007-2011. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

17 thoughts on “The Sea

  1. This kind of book is difficult for me because in general, I do not like this type of book, and when something gets accused of pretentiousness, I frequently agree that it is indeed pretentious. But I end up liking this kind of book often enough (including Nabokov) to stop me writing the type off completely. Hm.

  2. Ohmigosh, I laughed my way through this entire review. I loved it, though I don’t know if I would love the book. At the first quote, even just reading it embedded in your review, I was thinking, “I cannot take this author seriously. Can he take HIMSELF seriously?” And apparently he can. The other shared quotes have entirely too many commas in them. As am a friend to the much overused and overworked comma, I must protest.

    That said, this review was amazing. WELL DONE! So glad that you showed us all just how confused you were. That was me with Memoirs of an Anti-Semite last year. Still not sure what THAT was about…

  3. Michelle

    I’m so happy you liked this book. I loved it, even if reading it so close after Banville’s novel Eclipse made me like it a little teeny bit less than I usually would have. I think you would enjoy Eclipse, however, but I think it’s a good idea to put a lot of space between reading different Banville novels. To get the full effect. (Michelle – Verbivore)

  4. I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it so much. I’ve had this one on my shelves for awhile and since I am planning to read more from my shelves this year, I hope to get this one read in 2011!

  5. Pingback: Shadow Tag « Care's Online Book Club

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