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The Sea, John Banville

Max Morden has just lost his wife to cancer.  Instead of moving in with his daughter, he chooses to stay at a boarding home where he vacationed as a child.  This novel uses Max to explore themes of memory, first love, and loss, since the plot is scarce and almost all of the story is told through short, half-remembered vignettes of the past.

I didn’t like this book very much, in all honesty.  I picked it up because I did enjoy Eclipse when I read it in my literature class last fall and I thought that, since this novel won the Booker prize, it was probably worth reading.  And so it is, in a very literary sense.  Not much happens until the very end, when the fragments of story come together and the reader finally understands why Max has gone back to the sea.  The ending did actually redeem it, in that sense, and made the novel much more powerful.  In addition, Banville’s prose is truly beautiful and it’s a pleasure to revel in his turns of phrase.

There were plenty of things I didn’t like about it, however, mainly the self-indulgent, whiny narrator.  I have little patience for people who are so concerned with themselves when someone they are supposed to love is dying of cancer, so obviously part of this is my own bias.  Max doesn’t seem to care about anyone at all.  Secondly, I would have preferred a little more motion in the plot before the end.  It is a wonderful ending, but I would have liked at least something to pull me along and make the journey there of more substance than beautiful words on a page.  Normally, I’m okay when nothing much happens because I love atmosphere, but somehow this book didn’t create enough of that for me.

Now, you don’t have to listen to me, as plenty of people have loved this book.  And it is a worthy read, if you have a few hours just to focus on reading and nothing else.  It just wasn’t what I wanted when I read it and I found myself disappointed overall. Buy this book on Amazon. In all honesty, though, I’d recommend Eclipse more (although other reviewers seem to disagree here), if you’re interested in John Banville.

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