Friday, June 22, 2007

The Sea by John Banville

If you are looking for some good reading to take away to the beach/cottage/hacienda/Blofeld style mountain-top lair then The Sea by John Banville is a good pick.

Sure, it's a little bit melancholy and somewhat bitter sweet, but Banville's poetic way of writing (among other things, he seems to make up the odd word to express what he wants in a sort of Joycean way, though not nearly so relentlessly as Joyce) is at times quite magical, though always down to earth. The book is very evocative of place and - if you are at all interested in memory and how it works - Banville is a master of making memories both concrete and ephemeral at the same time. In many ways, his writing is quite "photographic" - I could often pretty much imagine the photographs that would illustrate the prose.

The Guardian has one of many good reviews - following is an extract (warning - the full Guardian review has a bit of a spoiler in it...):

"Max Morden, whose name points to death and, like the Northern line terminus, an end, is mourning the wife he has recently lost to cancer. He first love had also once stayed. Reconstruction through memory is Morden's drug: he binges on it and on grief, booze and writing. The sea is where his first love disappeared and where he is now disappearing. The sea is memory itself, its high rising tides are what threaten to drown the present and even the past. Like memory, the sea has a life of its own: at the close of the novel, Morden remembers a moment when a strange swell seemed to express the unacceptably cruel world: "the whole sea surged . . . Just another of the great world's shrugs of indifference."...

Banville writes novels of complex patterning, with grace, precision and timing, and there are wonderful digressive meditations. In The Sea we hear about work and mediocrity, how "Be yourself!" actually means "Be anyone you like", on how first love can put an end to the "immanence of all things" and turn the world "into an objective entity"....

In this scopic world, people become things. Morden prefers it that way: "What are living beings, compared to the enduring intensity of mere things?" It's not only the intensity of things that Morden likes perhaps, but the fact that they don't speak. In speech, living beings expect to be understood on their own terms. The sudden dramatic turn of Morden's memories hinges, it transpires, on a colossal misunderstanding, as we see at the novel's end..."

(Pagham Beach - Tim Atherton)

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