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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 11 February 2006
I found this book difficult to read; not for the prose, but for the emotions within it. It is a study of loss, not grief, and shows in pitiless detail what remains when those who survive carry the weight of death with them.
It is also a book full of beautiful descriptions, and paragraphs that read as half-finished poems. The narrator is not that likeable, and seems at times to have stepped out of a Samuel Beckett play, but the scenes he describes are bursting with vivid detail.
A very moving book, it stayed with me long after I had finished it.
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on 3 July 2006
Oh dear. This is the second time that I have been burnt by a booker 'prize winner'. The first was "Vernon God Little" which left me underwhelmed.

Ok. Now I want you, the reader of this review to feel that I am constructively critical so that you can make an informed decision. I am not one of those people that doesn't appreciate a novel and immediately says "This is rubbish" with no further thought. I like to justify my conclusion. So, here goes:

Upon reading this novel, one point that struck me were the reviews you always see printed on the back. I recall a newspaper quoted as saying the prose to be 'beautiful'. I strongly disagree. The concept of a first person perspective (or any form of narrative) for me, is that the writer should paint a picture for the reader, engage, involve them to an extent that they feel that they are there or at least can picture the scene. With this novel it is just one long monologue which quickly disengages. I had read approximately a third of the book and I counted not more than 12 lines of dialogue. Ok you might say, but remember, this is a work of fiction, not a car manual and this lack of character interaction made for very tedious reading. The author, in foregoing dialogue places the rest of the writing under further scrutiny and it really does not stand up. The novel felt like a lecture and did not conjure any vivid imagery.

A very disconcerting and negative aspect to this novel was that it felt like the writer had merely patched together, in one continous diatribe, as many anecdotes as possible. Flitting from one (what he must have felt to portray depth, otherworldy insight or whatever elevated hope) fractured thought to another. This left the novel disjointed and somewhat pretentious. As a compare and contrast, if you decide to purchase 'The Sea', I suggest you try either "Fugitive Pieces" by Anne Michaels or "In The Skin Of A Lion" by Michael Ondaatje. Truly beautiful and thus will further illustrate my point that you need great writing with which to substitute dialogue.

Someone mentioned that the novel had lots of long words. I didn't really feel that to be the case. The problem was that the overall plot, or seeming lack of it, just leaves you cold, a few challenging workds would allow for a welcome break from the tedium to look them up.

In summary, I equate the Booker Prize nominations to that of modern art and the Turner Prize. In essence, the Booker is the equivalent to the Turner. Very few understand quite how a conclusion is drawn (or what merit allowed for that conclusion) but for fear of looking a little stupid still subscribe to it. Or at least the dissenting voices are muffled. A rip-roaringly good novel (The Gun by Forester say) or a touching, yet enjoyable novel (Microserfs by Coupland) or a subversive novel of great depth (American Psycho by Easton Ellis) would just not make it on the list. They would be considered run-of-the-mill (in terms of Booker criteria) or uncouth.

If you wish to say that you read the latest Booker winner and thoroughly understood why it won the award, then yes, this novel is most certainly for you. If you would rather read a great book that stays with you, then I suggest that you avoid disappointment and not purchase The Sea.
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on 8 February 2014
Beautifully written, carefully observed, reserved intimacy. The Sea by John Banville won the Booker Prize in 2005, and richly deserved the prize. The present reality of the first-person narrator is interwoven with childhood memories of a family summer spent at the coast. Themes of love and grief, relationships and separation are exquisitely explored. Wonderful book!
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on 3 November 2005
Beautiful how he draws the reader into the story in the beginning. It is a pity that about half way through the book he loses a bit of the attention that he so quickly grasped in the first pages. Overall a beautiful book, that allows the reader to wander off with the protagonist along the beaches of the little village and the memories of his shattered life.
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on 2 November 2008
This is my first Banville, and I take the point made by several other reviewers that it's probably a more rewarding experience to read 'The Sea' after some of his earlier work, so as to familiarise oneself with his style.
And this is the great pivotal point- his style. I think it has a real Marmite factor- love it or hate it, or in fact some combination of the two. At times, I found myself nodding appreciatively with how powerful his vignettes were- for example, the kiss in the cinema, the hairwashing scene and the part where the main character flips out while watching a nature documentary (none of these are spoilers, by the way). But an equal number of times I clocked myself shaking my head in annoyance with how deliberate, artful and writerly his prose is. People speak of his writing as being like poetry, but isn't that a genre category error? We're reading a novel here, aren't we? And call me conventional, but bedecking virtually every single sentence with some kind of simile doesn't do much for pacing or plot.
Overall, if you like impressionistic, modernist literature in the tradition of Virginia Woolf, and you prefer reflections, feelings and sensations, then you will love this. As an oblique discussion on the isolating nature of grief it's compelling. On the other hand, if you like highly developed and intriguing plotting, three-dimensional and sympathetic characterisation, some appreciation of motive and real relationships, then forget it. To be honest, the increasing misanthropy and solipsism of the main character started to really grate on me. He seemed to barely regard other people as actual entities, and only functions in his own tortured process of recollection, regret and despair.

A much better book is the similarly titled 'The Sea, the Sea' by Iris Murdoch, which also won the Booker prize, and is also about a writer confronting his past as it collides with his present.
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The Sea will either delight or aggravate you. Some may experience both reactions.
The delight will come from finding a surprising word choice or unexpected detail on almost every page, the unusual development of the plot and the rapid shifts between thought, memory, perception, desire, musing and reflection. For some, the fresh descriptions of male sexual awakening will also be sweet.
The aggravation will come from realizing that the story could have been told more directly. You will also feel yourself being manipulated quite often. The word choices could have been more direct. The surprises on each page become almost mechanical after awhile. Deal with the aggravation is my advice. Otherwise, you'll miss the chance to see how often you jump to unwarranted conclusions. Reading this novel is like holding up a mirror to see your mind's perceptions and prejudices.
You won't realize much of the book's power until you're done. If you are like me, you'll immediately want to read it again.
The story takes place while Max Morden recovers emotionally from his wife's untimely death from a wasting illness. Uncharacteristically, Morden avoids family and friends to be quite alone most of the day while staying in a run-down rooming house where he experienced many delights as a youngster. Being there brings up many memories of the Grace family . . . surely a metaphor for inspiration in this lover of Bonnard. You'll find yourself drawn into those long-ago memories as well as Morden's unhappy reaction to his wife's loss. But you'll also know that there's an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Gradually, all will become clear through the mental peregrinations of Morden.
I don't remember stream of consciousness done in sentences in quite as interesting a way as Mr. Banville achieves. All aspiring novelists must read this book!
Here's an example of Mr. Banville's power to evoke irony:
"There are other things I can do. . . . Or I might retire into a monastery to pass my days in quiet contemplation of the infinite, or write a great treatise there, a vulgate of the dead. I can see myself in my cell, long-bearded, with quill-pen and hat and docile lion, through a window beside me minuscule peasants in the distance making hay, and hovering above my brow the dove refulgent. Oh yes, life is pregnant with possibilities."
Enjoy this original and provocative work.
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on 6 August 2009
I picked up this book because as a prize winner, someone believes its good. I hate disliking books, but I found it prolix and to me, dull. However I generally feel that I should persist with books that I dont immediately find gripping, as they often yield up hidden gems.

I plodded through this book, picking it up to finish it, rather than being unable to put it down. Halfway through it spat me out. It was at the description of the robins nest, the narrator says he can still vividly remember the 'buttery smell of the gorse blossoms'. Gorse blossoms are beautiful wild bush, they bloom all over the irish countryside, especially on hillsides and marginal land, the blossoms are a vivid yellow but smell very strongly of coconut. The author, while from ireland, clearly has never put his nose near a gorse blossom, the smell is unmistakeable, strong and ridiculously out of place.

I was soaking in the bath at the time, so managed to soothe and quell my irritation, thinking I could pass over that mistake, turning the page, the top paragraph he describes his wifes forehead as being like a 'frail ostrich egg'. If like me, you have ever held or stood on an ostrich egg, you will know there is nothing frail about it. They are incredibly strong.

wordy prose, excess descriptions I can cope with, but when those descriptions rest on error, even trivial ones like this, I loose my ability to be held by the story.

I threw the book across the room and enjoyed my bath instead
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on 12 October 2009
Banville's writing is beautiful and worthy of admiration. If you could take his words and shape them into some sort of exhibition in a gallery then we'd all be better off. Unfortunately, he's not much of a story teller which makes this book quite a chore to read. Books like these put people off the award winners, and with good reason. I can't help feeling there's something of the emperor's new clothes about the people who profess to love novels like this one. Certainly Mr Banville wasn't exactly burning up the sales charts before hitting the Booker jackpot and I for one will not be spending any more time in future poring over his glacial prose.
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on 1 October 2005
If your first encounter with the name John Banville is through the Booker Prize shortlist, chances are you probably wouldn't like The Sea very much.
Banville is a master at crafting a descriptive work that walks you through every thought and feeling, every shape and every colour, every smell and every touch, until you become inevitably tangled in the story. It's this genius touch at bringing pages of writing to life that makes John Banville's prose such an excitement to read.
But one wonders about the essence of the written work. While 'The Sea' is a beautiful narrative of a man's haunted past, the reader's connection to the protagonist is missing. The book lacks the edge, the creativity and the plotline to draw the reader deeper into it. When a reader doesn't feel for the hero that is painted, then the reader should deem the book fundamentally flawed.
This is not to say that 'The Sea' is not worth a read at all, in fact, its brilliant 19th century prose written in a 21st century context is appealing in every way. If anything, read 'The Sea' because it's an artful descriptive prose that almost achieves the sense of darksome beauty it is suppose to evoke. Alas, it falls short due to a weak storyline and a scratchy protagonist.
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on 25 September 2006
This is a wonderfully good book with prose that often feels like poetry. Banville has such a strong clear voice throughout the novel and as you read you become gripped by the personality and tragic events of the narrator.

There is no plot as such to this book but there is nevertheless a strongly driven narrative throughout. It is a skillfully woven story of memories and revealations that conveys the many different layers of loss and mourning of the past and loved ones. The writing is simply extraordinarly good and for that reason you can see why it impressed the Booker prize judges.

Its language is a joy to behold, evocative and also very very funny when you least expect it. His description of Bun, the woman who owns the B & B is hilarious while at the same time conveying the bitter cynicism of the narrator.

Having read the other short-listed entries of 2005 Man Booker Prize (first time I've ever done that) I still feel that either Arthur & George or Never Let Me Go should have won. However, last year was a superb crop of short-listed books it must have been a tough one to pick.
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