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.