Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Sea by John Banville

An old man comes to grips with a childhood tragedy

Max Morden, mourning the death of his beloved wife, returns to the Irish beach town where he spent childhood vacations, specifically returning to the summer house of the upper class family who obsessed him – the Graces. Carlo Grace, the larger than life father, the beautiful Mrs. Grace, Connie, whom Max immediately crushes on, and the blond twins, both oddballs, blunt Chloe and mute mischievous Myles. Their entourage also included hard Rose, the put upon nanny. This time, Max lets a room in the house alongside with the elderly steely caretaker, Miss Vavasour, and the slightly ridiculous Colonel Blunden.  Max is there to confront his memories.

I don’t think I “get” the British novel. Or it’s not my cup of tea. Or something. Lots of times I feel that the action comes to a screeching halt and the characters just sit around nattering. The Sea bogged down about a third of the way in. Despite the jaw droppingly beautiful sentences (requiring extra time to savor), I lost interest in Max. At times I felt becalmed in a sea of lovely language and perfect metaphors. Each character, even the minor ones, was etched in acid and unforgettable. Which is appropriate for a novel about memory. But I didn’t care.

The sea, I presume, is death, the vast thing that must be confronted, but never understood.  The tone of the novel is clear and sad.

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