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The Sea [Hardcover]

John Banville
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Jun 2005

When Max Morden returns to the coastal town where he spent a holiday in his youth he is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma.

The Grace family appear that long ago summer as if from another world. Drawn to the Grace twins, Chloe and Myles, Max soon finds himself entangled in their lives, which are as seductive as they are unsettling. What ensues will haunt him for the rest of his years and shape everything that is to follow.

John Banville is one of the most sublime writers working in the English language. Utterly compelling, profoundly moving and illuminating, The Sea is quite possibly the best thing he has ever written.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (3 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330483285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330483285
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.6 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 404,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Incandescent prose. Beautifully textured characterisation. Transparent narratives. The adjectives to describe the writing of John Banville are all affirmative, and The Sea is a ringing affirmation of all his best qualities. His publishers are claiming that this novel by the Booker-shortlisted author is his finest yet, and while that claim may have an element of hyperbole, there is no denying that this perfectly balanced book is among the writer’s most accomplished work.

Max Morden has reached a crossroads in his life, and is trying hard to deal with several disturbing things. A recent loss is still taking its toll on him, and a trauma in his past is similarly proving hard to deal with. He decides that he will return to a town on the coast at which he spent a memorable holiday when a boy. His memory of that time devolves on the charismatic Grace family, particularly the seductive twins Myles and Chloe. In a very short time, Max found himself drawn into a strange relationship with them, and pursuant events left their mark on him for the rest of his life. But will he be able to exorcise those memories of the past?

The fashion in which John Banville draws the reader into this hypnotic and disturbing world is non pareil, and the very complex relationships between his brilliantly delineated cast of characters are orchestrated with a master’s skill. As in such books as Shroud and The Book of Evidence, the author eschews the obvious at all times, and the narrative is delivered with subtlety and understatement. The genuine moments of drama, when they do occur, are commensurately more powerful. --Barry Forshaw


"It is a brilliant, sensuous, discombobulating novel" -- Spectator

"This is a novel in which all Banville's remarkable gifts come together to produce a real work of art.." -- Scotsman

"With his fastidious wit and exquisite stule, John Banville is the heir to Nabokov....his best novel so far" -- Daily Telegraph

'Everything in Banville's books is alive. Bleakly elegant, he is a writer's writer, a new Henry Green..' -- Independent

'The Sea is a beautiful novel, challenging and richly rewarding..we have a lord of language among us.' -- Irish Independent

'There is so much to applaud in this book that it deserves more than one reading.' -- Literary Review

'This is a novel in which all Banville's remarkable gifts come together to produce a real work of art’ -- Scotsman

‘A brilliant, sensuous novel’ -- Spectator

‘The Sea is essentially a redemptive journey of the mind . . . Banville is a master at the top of his game’ -- Time Out

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Booker Prize-winning author John Banville presents a sensitive and remarkably complete character study of Max Morden, an art critic/writer from Ireland whose wife has just died of a lingering illness. Seeking solace, Max has checked into the Cedars, a now dilapidated guest house in the seaside village of Ballyless, where he and his family spent their summers when he was a child. There he spent hours in the company of Chloe and Myles Grace, his constant companions. Images of foreboding suggest that some tragedy occurred while he was there, though the reader discovers only gradually what it might have been. Now at the Cedars, he contemplates the nature of life, love, and death, and our imperfect memories of these momentous events.
As Max probes his recollections, he reveals his most intimate feelings, constantly questions the accuracy of his memory, and juxtaposes his childhood memories and his recent memories of his wife Anna's "inappropriate" illness and her futile treatments. Through flashbacks, he also introduces us to his earlier life with Anna and his fervent hopes that through her he could become someone more interesting. "I was always a distinct no-one, whose fiercest wish was to be an indistinct someone," he says, confessing that he saw her as "the fairground mirror in which all my distortions would be made straight."
More a meditation than a novel with a strong plot, The Sea brings Max to life (such as his life is), recreating his seemingly simple, yet often profound, thoughts in language which will startle the reader into recognition of their universality. To some extent an everyman, Max speaks to the reader in uniquely intimate ways.
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High art 8 Jan 2006
By jfp2006
The awarding of the 2005 Booker Prize (by a whisker, it was admitted) to John Banville for his fourteenth novel - he had previously been shorlisted in 1989 for his astonishing stylistic fusion of penitence (for his crimes) and damn-the-whole-lot-of-you indictment (of society in general), “The Book of Evidence” - was, inevitably, considered a controversial choice.
The tone of “The Sea” is in many ways similar to that of “The Book of Evidence”, and of his other fiction in general. It is another first-person narrative, this time that of the ageing art-historian Max Morden, recently widowed (or ‘widowered’, as he himself tentatively suggests), following the death of his wife, Anna, from cancer, and seeking refuge, solace and a clearer understanding of the past, in a seaside village where he used to spend holidays as a child. His only immediate company there is his enigmatic landlady, Miss Vavasour, and the one other guest, the somewhat caricatural Colonel Blunden...
who may not in fact be a retired colonel at all. Who may very well be a total fraud. But then the question marks hanging over both Miss Vavasour and the colonel are small ones in comparison with the increasing enigma surrounding the narrator himself. As he reminisces alternately about the mysterious Grace family, both feared and worshipped during one of the childhood holidays in the same village, and about the meaning of his marriage to the rich Anna, the reader gradually understands that these are only aspects of a far deeper meditation about his own life and increasingly fragmenting sense of identity and personality.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A touching tale of lost love 25 April 2007
By Jimbo
This was the first book of Banvilles that I have read (yes, I'm a slave to the Booker) but I found it enjoyable and exceptionally rewarding. In some ways this reminded me of Something Happened by Joseph Heller - the book was a tender description of his feelings for all but the last few pages when there is a dramatic event and then a revelation. Banville is a skilled writer, and the character of Max emerges complete - the way that the other characters sometime appear to be half-formed reflects the way we sometimes review the past.

I especially enjoyed the way that he wedded the past to the recent present, interweaving recollections about the two women he had loved, though one got the sense it was the ghost of the past to whom he felt the most attachment.

The beauty of the book was added to by the deployment of a rich vocabulary - it was a real feast of adjectives - that didn't smother the book but helped to heighten the tenderness Max felt for his past. Whilst it is true that there isn't much meat to this slender volume, Banville has created a fragile story that reflects the nature of the love he writes about.

It is easy to see why this book stood out to the Booker judges - it is essentially a dissertation of feeling rather than a dramtic love story. This is a book that is definitely worth investigating, though not if you enjoy a big plot and plenty of action.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life and Death, In Poetry, by the Seaside 18 July 2006
A middle-aged man, Max Morden, returns to a seaside village, a place from his childhood, in a journey of memories following the death of his wife. As the story develops, many secrets unfold, in a dramatic story of life and death and a disclosure that completely changes Max's perception of the events that took place.

The stunning feature of the book is Banville's writing. It is intensely poetic. It is filled with images and nuances. From every word is squeezed the last drop of meaning, suggestion and emotion. With few fragments of reported speech and little quotations, there is no dialogue. Instead we have a soliloquy that conveys the thoughts, feelings and memories of a man coming to terms with bereavement and death.

Don't expect a fast-paced action story. This is a beautiful book, a work of art in which the stories interweave and the scenes are described at a pace that lets them breathe as we are drawn deeply into Max's troubling and painful world. Even through this, there is a sense of optimism and rebirth: the novel is aptly named, for the sea was there at the beginning, will wash clean, and will be there at the end.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A gentle reflection on life
Published 5 days ago by Dr Vanessa A Skelton
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
A good read but not the classic I was expecting.
Published 1 month ago by macullam
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sea
Loved this, beautiful prose, fortunately I read it on my kindle and was able to look up some of the archaic language - don't let that put you off though, this is a great story,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs H
1.0 out of 5 stars The Sea
Very disappointing. Despite the rave reviews by the literati I found this noveist self indulgent and in lover enamoured with his love of unnecessarily erudite words and phrases.
Published 2 months ago by D. Langmead
5.0 out of 5 stars breathtaking
its taken me a while to "discover" JB. i am now reading everything he has ever written. if there is a more poetic writer working today please tell me.
Published 2 months ago by Andrew Maughan
5.0 out of 5 stars new favourite author
this is a fantastic book with beautiful evocations of place and thought some humour and just the best thing I have read in ages. not sure how I missed it for so long . Read more
Published 2 months ago by Robert Eady
4.0 out of 5 stars Having seen the film, I had to read the book
A dark tale, which delves into the, sometimes shameful, human psyche. Two stories weave the fabric of this novel; the story of a summer encounter with a family that alternately... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rachael T Block
3.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive but fleeting
With much eloquence, Banville penetrates the thought-scape of a middle-aged male who has recently lost a spouse and in an angsty, bitter emptiness that has overtaken him, finds... Read more
Published 2 months ago by coronaurora
5.0 out of 5 stars Get your dictionary ready
Lovely, human, honest portrayal of the loss of a loved partner and insightful reminiscences of childhood and the strangeness of learning about the adult /grown up world. Read more
Published 3 months ago by arlene chalmers
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-regarding prose
As a study of an unpleasant man's state of mind, this is ably written, though the prose draws attention to itself throughout, as if the writer is challenging the reader to be as... Read more
Published 3 months ago by heather s
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