Friday, August 1, 2008

The Sea by John Banville

I didn't know what to expect with this book when I first picked it up. Some how I missed all the earlier buzz when it won the Booker Prize. That's not always a bad thing. I like to come to a book without hearing a great deal about it ahead of time. I can honestly say that I liked the book, and I understand why it won (although I don't remember which books it was up against). Banville is obviously a talented writer. Grief and memory are the two major themes of the book. Max Morden is the narrator who tells us the story of how he loses his wife to cancer. Following her death, he returns to a seaside cottage that he visited as a child to deal with his loss and the ghosts of something that happened long ago. The reader doesn't really know what it is that draws Max back to the beach until close to the end of the book. He introduces us to the Grace family, but at first I really couldn't figure out why he was telling us about them. It simply didn't seem relevant at the time. He just lost his wife for heaven's sake. Why should we care about the family he met as a boy on vacation? I won't say more about that because he does a nice job of answering all the questions for the reader as the book comes to a close.

I usually either like the narrator or hate the narrator. In this case, I seemed to have a fickle relationship with Max. At times, I felt extreme sympathy for him as he struggled to deal with his grief. However, at other times, I felt more like slapping him. I guess he was just being honest about his feelings. But, at times, I wanted to scream at him -- you're wife is the one dying of cancer! He seemed very needy and somewhat of a chauvinist. He even had some unkind things to say about his own daughter. I guess I may be being too hard on him. Everyone grieves differently, and none of us would hold up very well against criticism if the rest of the world could read our minds.

The book does give the reader a glimpse into what it would be like living with someone with a terminal illness and the aftermath of their death. A close family member went through this a couple years ago, and I could relate to some of the things that Max went through. Grief is a funny thing. It can make you feel as if you're losing your mind at times. Overall, I would recommend this book. I had a few quibbles, such as the narrator interrupting the story unnecessarily. However, this wasn't a big deal. Just know going in that this isn't a feel good book.


Lezlie said...

I have a couple others by this author I want to read also: The Untouchable and The Shroud. Glad to hear this one was pretty good.

Have a great weekend!

Lisa said...

lezlie, this is the first and only book by Banville that I've read. So, I'd be interested to try one of his other books. Happy Friday to you!!

Gentle Reader said...

I'm very interested in reading this, and also Banville's mystery-thrillers that he's recently written under another name (that I cannot remember for the life of me--sorry!) Thanks for the review!

Dorothy W. said...

I've thought about reading this book, but keep feeling uncertain about it ... and I would probably continue to feel uncertain about it as I read it, just like you did. I've heard he writes beautifully, which would make it worth while.

Danielle said...

I felt pretty much the same as you did. I had a hard time with the narrator, though the writing was really lovely. If I remember correctly he is also quite fond of using lots of big words I had to go look up (though I think that's the narrator's voice coming through). I do really like Banville's mysteries that he writes under the name Benjamin Black though.

Stephanie said...

Man. I'm glad you liked this one. But it bored me to tears! Nice writing, but it did absolutely nothing for me!!

Lisa said...

gentle reader, I keep forgetting that he writes mysteries, as well. I'll have to try one of those.

dorothy, it's worth a try. I didn't love it, but I didn't dislike it either. It's a really short book so it's not a big investment of time either.

danielle, that's funny that you mention it. He does use quite a few big words that I had to look up, as well. I really need to try one of his mysteries.

stephanie, I really had a hard time with the narrator, but the story did keep me interested. I can't say it is one of my favorites, but I'd be willing to give something else of his a try. Have you read anything else by Banville?