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Ocean Sea
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 July 2015
I found this book really hard going. A diverse group of characters are brought together at the Almayer Inn, 'perched on the last narrow ledge of the world' in an unnamed country, managed by ten-year old Dira and her four brothers – one of whom, Dood, has a rather disturbing parapsychological ability. Much of the writing is evocative and poetic, but often the detail of the narrative is obscure and not well served by modernist mannerisms.

It is not clear to what extent, if any, this is due to the translation of Alastair McEwen [‘Within the perfect circle of the optical universe, the perfection of that oscillatory motion formulated promises doomed to be broken by the uniqueness of each individual wave. There was no way of stopping that continual alternation of creation and destruction.’].

Baricco’s style has elements of surrealism and magic realism, and may be considered as a meditation on the power of the sea which each of the characters sees from a different perspective and which influences their stories. Madame Deverià has been sent by her cuckolded husband to the sea as a to help her forget her lover; the artist Plasson, who has abandoned lucrative portraits ‘in which he could bestow a glint of intelligence upon any gaze, no matter how bovine’, in order to ‘make a portrait of the sea’ but he agonises about ‘Where does the sea begin?’; Professor Ismael Adalante Ismael Bartleboom is writing the ‘Encyclopedia of the Limits to be Found in Nature’ and has come to determine ‘where the sea ends’; Elisewin, a 15-year-old ‘dying of fear since she was born’, whose father, at the urging of Dr Atterdel [‘the most famous doctor in the land’], has sent her to the sea in a risky attempt to save her life; her companion and chaperon Father Pluche, who writes unusual prayers [‘Prayer of an Old Man whose Hands Shake’, ‘Prayer for a Little Boy Who Cannot Say the Letter R’] and says more than he should, and Adams, a sailor who had been found ‘in a village in the heart of Africa’, rescued but still suffers from the trauma of his abuse. Adams serves to link the two very different storylines.

Lovers of the letter ‘D’ will be thrilled by the appearance of Ditz and Dol, in addition to Dood, Dira and Deverià, but all of the characters seem only just sketched in and lack physical and psychological substance, as if observed through the low-lying sea clouds.

These characters are whimsical and Baricco, b. 1958, clearly enjoys writing about them but neither they nor their stories are sufficiently well integrated to remain in the reader’s mind. Being a modernist, the author also varies the layout of his text, uses sentences of breathtaking length and complexity, introduces the forward slash to break up text, changes case, offers a catalogue of 41 of Plasson’s minimalist seascapes and lays out dialogue as in a play.

I do not object to any of this providing that the material is sufficiently robust to carry this literary exploration. Otherwise it becomes, as all too often here, mere affectation. Not infrequently Baricco’s use of ellipsis results in the text becoming overly confused and there is a tendency to rather hammer home his points rather than letting them float and permeate the reader’s mind.

Frustratingly, there are some very good scenes and evocatve descriptions, and in the character of Bartleboom the author blends comedy and pathos in a heart-wrenching manner. However, these are too few and far between. Baricco eventually shows an impressive ability to bring together the disparate strands of his story, but it was rather too late.

At one point Elisewin ‘felt a bubble of emptiness burst in her head’. I know exactly how she felt, 5/10.
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on 29 October 1998
It's the book I give to everyone I really love... because it's hard to find a novel, a poetry, and a piece of art all in one book!!! It talks of the love the goes beyond love, of the friendship that goes beyond friendship, and it will delight you with the music of its words... read it, it's too beautiful to be missed! Let it cuddle you in a land where nothing's real, but everything is far more cruel than you expected it to be... Make friends with the characters, Elisewein, the painters, the murderer, the lover... you'll never be able to forget this book!
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on 24 November 2008
Normally I would start a review with a summary of the plot, but having only read "Ocean Sea" once, I don't feel competent to aummarise it. Suffice it to say that some characters get together at a hotel by the sea, and there's a chap painting the sea with sea-water, a woman who's going to die unless the sea can cure her, another woman who's trying to choose between her husband and her lover, and a lot of strange children. Plus a professor who's writing love letters to a woman he hasn't met yet. And some other characters.

"Ocean Sea" is written in a lyrical, elliptical prose style that will enchant some readers and infuriate others. There's a lot of rhapsodizing. There's cuts between different stories that are connected but don't immediately appear to have anything to do with each other. There's a lot of work for the reader to do, and it's for the individual reader to decide if that work was worth it in the end.

One aspect that did puzzle me arises from what I thought easily the best-written part of the book--the narrative by Savigny of the events on a drifting raft crammed with survivors of a shipwreck. Although it is perhaps overlong, it's written in an urgent and engaging fashion that brings the horror of his situation to life. However, the raft and the shipwreck so obviously derive from the wreck of the Medusa that it's a puzzle why Baricco names the ship Alliance instead. Perhaps it's an attempt at irony, as anything less like an alliance on that horrendous raft is hard to imagine. But given the characters have the same names as those on the Medusa's raft, the effect on the reader is to have them thinking, "But this is the Medusa! I know it's the Medusa!". It's hard to believe this is the effect Baricco sought.

In contrast to the sombre events of the Medusa shipwreck, and the terrible revenge exacted by one of its survivors, we have the mordantly funny tale of Professor Bartleboom and his mahogany box of love letters. Having finally found the woman to whom he should deliver it, he encounters unexpected and often hilarious reverses, but in the end brings happiness to an entire village, and perhaps to himself.

This book is very much a pot-pourri, although perhaps all its parts do make sense once put together. I'd need to read it a second time to be sure.
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on 26 March 2001
Ocean Sea doesn't live up to the promise of its beautiful cover. Although there are several remarkable ideas that light up the story, these rarely make into more than half-ideas. The characters possess enormous potential but only Bartleboom, the affable professor, is developed to the full. We know little about the rest and as a consequence care less than we're meant to about their fates. The sub-story of the stranded raft is horrifyingly strong, but like the raft itself this part of the narrative floats free and disembodied from most of the story. It could be taken much further. Likewise Baricco's mini-morals fall short - they are in fact on the crass and contrived side; and where there is no moral it is because there is no effective conclusion at all. Clearly Ocean Sea is original - its unusual style and textual lay-out draw the reader in... but leave us looking for something much more convincing than is there. The lasting impression is that the author had a wonderful story to tell but just couldn't quite get it across.
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on 13 February 2012
I don't lie when I say that "Ocean Sea" by Alessandro Baricco is the most amazing book I ever read. A story of human illnesses on the sea shore: a girl that CANNOT live because she is too scared, a man that looks for the limits of nature and other pecular characters all together in the Almayer Inn. Enjoy the fresh style of Baricco, his ability to create an atmosphere which doens't exist. In fact, the story occurs in a place that doesn't exist, in a time that is not time, a place that is not a place, in a life that is not life: you are a bit confused, aren't you? Well, then, there is just one thing you can do: reading this book. You will either hate it or love it. It's not the common Nicholas Sparks work, neither a love story,nothing you have ever read. The price is also very modest and the quality of the paperback book is good. Have a great time!
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on 17 December 1998
Baricco is the most talented Italian writer and Oceano Mare the best Italian book for ages. I hope that the translator will be able to recreate the magical atmosphere of the Almayeda Inn.
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on 22 January 2001
In Ocean Sea we meet a handful of characters at an inn by the beach. Each character needs to be by the sea for a purpose, whether it is scientific, artistic, psychological, spiritual, medical, etc. and by the end of this novel we find out whether and how their goals are reached.
Baricco's style is simple, magical and poetic. The tale of each of the characters in Ocean Sea is beautiful in its own right, and the way the characters interact with each other is even more so. And then there's the omni-presence of the sea, which fills the senses and the mind.
This is a beautiful and magical novel, which I recommend to all of you.
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on 5 October 2014
Wonderfully funny, poignant and surreal story interlinking the stories of several diverse characters - from a shipwreck-damaged seaman to the painter who wants to capture the essence of the sea by painting it using sea water - at a seaside hotel run by children. Endlessly captivating from a master of his craft, though probably not the cup of sea for thriller readers.
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on 9 July 2009
This is the second Baricco novel that I have read (the other being Without Blood) and once again I was moved emotionally. Translations can be hit and miss. It is difficult to know if the original has been lost in translation or was not inspiring in the author's native tongue in the first place. I like to think that Baricco's are wonderful Italian novels translated well into English (in Scotland!), in any case, the result is a very readable novel of passionate prose. His descriptions are unusual but beautiful and leave a vivid image in the reader's mind. The one which stood out for me was when he described a winters day, and the 'snow was as tall as children and as cold as the devil'. In this novel, he describes the lives of a number of people who are linked to a remote seaside inn. It is complicated at times as it moves between the past and present in each person's life individually and then brings them together creating a 'can't put down/don't want to finish' novel which hopefully you'll read and recommend to everyone! I can't wait for the next one.
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on 17 September 2017
Too winsome by far
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