Monday, September 27, 2021

"The Sea" by John Banville

Max Morden had traveled, perhaps moved, to the small seaside town he and his parents spent holidays when he was a child. They couldn’t afford fancy lodgings, so they generally stayed in what were \called “chalets,” small buildings with no indoor plumbing.  

It was on one of these vacations, when Max was 12, that he met the Graces, Carlos and Connie with their twins Chloe and Myles. Accompanying them was Rose, who served as a kind of babysitter. Chloe and Myles are close, as might be expected of twins, but Myles always seems younger, possibly because the boy has never spoken. Max grows close to the family and falls in love with Chloe, after a brief and unspoken infatuation with her mother.


Max has returned to the seaside, to escape from and make sense of the death of his wife Anna from cancer. He’s taken a room in the house the Graces occupied, and the house is both familiar and foreign. No longer occupied by a family as a summer residence, the house in now something of a boarding house, with residents in generally a state of permanent residence. Max has also taken to drink.


Slowly, the story of Max’s wife and her illness become intertwined with the story of that childhood summer, the last Max would spend there. Early one, we know that summer involved a death, much like Max’s present has involved a death. Gradually, we learn what happened in both cases, and how Max tries to make sense of all of it.


John Banville

The Sea
 by Irish writer John Banville was published in 2005 and won the Man Booker Prize. It’s a beautifully written novel, almost elegiac, reflecting a love for language as much as a love for telling a story.


In addition to his work in literary journalism (The Irish Press and The Irish Times), Banville is the author of numerous works of fiction, including novels, short stories, and novellas. Under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, he’s also written several crime novels. His fiction has received numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Award and the Irish Pen Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature.


The Sea is a story and a metaphor for trying to find one’s way. Max Morden has lost his way, and he knows he’s lost his way. And he learns that it’s only by returning to to the past that we can begin to find himself again.

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