Saturday, January 30

Book Review: The Sea

Title: The Sea

Author: John Banville

Pages: 195

The narrator is Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who, soon after his wife’s death, has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child—a 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 twins—Chloe, fiery and forthright, and Myles, silent and expressionless—in whose mysterious connection Max became profoundly entangled, each of them a part of the “barely bearable raw immediacy” of his childhood memories.

Interwoven with this story are Morden’s memories of his wife, Anna—of their life together, of her death—and the moments, both significant and mundane, that make up his life now: his relationship with his grown daughter, Claire, desperate to pull him from his grief; and with the other boarders at the house where he is staying, where the past beats inside him “like a second heart.”

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—among the finest we have had from this extraordinary writer.

My Rating: 7

What I liked/disliked about the book: The story was a well written story, with an elegant and poetic style of writing, which I enjoyed. The author did a good job at portraying the various and at times jumbled emotions and thoughts of a man who just lost someone he loved. Together, I think the author did a fantastic job at creating a character who the reader could follow on an emotional journey and almost see his emotions on the pages.

Another aspect I liked was, as Max remembers his childhood past events, at times it’s almost like random images, or glimpses from his memory. At times these memories pop up, almost randomly, but it works in a way that it seems like ghosts of his past come into his mind as he struggles with his feelings of loss of his wife, and feelings of a childhood memory. Even though the story jumped around from past and present and at times was done randomly and hard to follow, I think it worked because it seemed to be realistic portrayal, seemly random items, places images jar a memory of the last time he was there, and it’s mixed in with the thoughts and emotions of losing a loved one. But at the same time, it jumping around so much was also hard to follow. Sometimes you’d be interested in something happening in the present and the character would drift off into the past, and then drift back, so it was hard to keep the two storylines straight. I also wasn’t that impressed with the ending, I can’t put my finger on why, but it just didn’t satisfy me.

A worthwhile read, and a great example of poetic writing style, but not as good as I would have expected, particularly in the end.

Would I recommend it to read: I'd recommend this book to read to some people. If you like poetic style, or books that focus a lot on the emotional journey of a character then yes. If you're looking to read something a little different, then yes. But I can see a lot of people being frustrated with how the story jumps around.

What to read next: October - Richard B Wright, The Gathering

Challenges: Read 'n' Review, Pages Read, 10/10 Challenge, 100+ Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Countdown Challenge, NaJuReMoNoMo, New Author Challenge, Reading Western Europe, Support Your Library Challenge, What's in a Name? Challenge


  1. I'm planning on reading this one this year. Honestly, I am going into it not knowing if I will like it or not. It sounds like that's a realistic position to take! Thanks for the thorough review.

  2. I've been so interested in this book. Nice honest review -- I think I'll mostly like The Sea.

  3. I, too, have been really interested in this book. This is the first review I have seen, and I think based on your review, that I would like the book. I don't think I would have much of a problem with the time line distortion, but I will be interested in comparing your reactions to the end with mine when I finally get around to reading it.

  4. Kristen - I hope you can enjoy it when you do read this. When you do, let me know.

    Beth F and Zibilee - I hope when you both read the book you'll enjoy it. Glad you enjoyed the review.

  5. I've just started this; hoping to finish up the WhatsInAName Challenge. Even tho I have already gone back to try and figure out WHAT is happening (and quite a few words I don't know) after only 15 pages, I'm really thinking I will like this. It is the opposite of the last book I read which is good.