The Sea – John Banville

I did not start with Mr Banville on the best of terms. My first book of his was The Book of Evidence, which I admired a lot from literary and craft standpoint, but which failed to move and completely engage me. because of that I was on one hand curious of The Sea, and on the other a bit apprehensive. It proved to be an interesting read, very different from the previous one, not necessarily better.

After death of his wife Max Morden returns to the seaside village where he spent his childhood holidays. He stays at the Cedars, being a lodger of Miss Vavasour and the neighbour of the Colonel. Max reminisces about his past, telling us about his holidays in Ballyless (as he decided to call th village, which is near the town of Ballymore), the Grace family that he found so fascinating as a child. How he had a crush on Mrs Grace, the time spent with her twin kids, Chloe and Myles, and the story of the holidays past slowly builds to its dramatic climax. Max interweaves the holiday memories with memories of his wife’s illness and grief after her death. We see he is deeply hurt and damage, and not even sure if he is on the mend or drowning deeper in his grief without any hope.

This book was a lot more lyrical than The Book of Evidence, full of very sensual descriptions and slow-moving. The only parts I found really touching and engaging were those where Max was remembering his wife. His memories of the childhood holiday I found really difficult to engage with, even though they form an axis of the plot leading to the twist that binds past and present.

Again there is no denying Banville’s mastery of the language, he turns it into an obedient tool. As much as this book didn’t resonate with me, it actually made me appreciate The Book of Evidence a lot more for its despicable character and breath of its scope. The Sea felt a lot more introspective and a bit claustrophobic in comparison.

Have you read any of Banville’s books? Do you have any recommendations? Should I give Mr Banville another chance?

It is part of my reading Ireland month, here you can see other books on the list.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

6 thoughts on “The Sea – John Banville

  1. I wrote about The Sea this week too – what a coincidence! I think we had a similar experience with it. It’s very impressive in lots of ways, but I’m still not totally sure. Unlike you, it is the first Banville I’ve read, so I did think I need to give him another try…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! It is a coincidence indeed 🙂 he definitely deserves another chance. I only read two of his books, so can only say that The Book of Evidence made bigger impression on me. I do regret that with all Banville’s mastery I stil fail to fully connect with his books, he’s so good that it almost feels like my fault.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. One thing I’m happy about is that it gave me new perspective on The Book of Evidence, so definitely not wasted time, but also not one of my books of the year. Have you read anything else by him?


  2. Pingback: November round-up –

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