Book Report: The Sea

The Sea, a novel by John Banville, was published first in 2005. It won the Man Booker Prize, a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe.

Banville, an Irishman who lives in Dublin, has written a long series of novels. The Sea is the second book of his I've had the pleasure of reading, following The Infinities, a rather strange story intertwining gods with mortals as an aged family patriarch hovers nears death in a remote home. Each novel has a twist, a clever "hook" in the plot. These put a creative element into flat-out wondrous prose, interspersed with erudite references to the classics. I needed a dictionary handy for both books; the need to break away and check on words was somewhere between satisfying and interesting, and an interruption in the flow of the story. But all in all, the vocabulary he uses is impressive, albeit somewhat regional as many of the words are noted as "Irish" or "Scottish" in my Merriam Websters.

But back to The Sea. The plot is narrated by a man who spent holidays in a seaside resort area as a young boy. There and then, he became friends with a girl near his age, a friendship which developed into a strange sort of boy-girl summer flirtation and young love. The girl and her younger brother were members of a wealthy family, much more affluent than his own in the class-conscious society. The girl's family and their nanny had difficulties and secrets of their own.

The early childhood experiences left a strong imprint on the first person narrator. Following his wife's death from a lengthy disease, he takes a room in a boardinghouse that formerly was the house rented by the girl's family of that long-ago summer, in the little seaside town that has changed very little. The house, in its current form, has only two other residents: a spinster house-maid and an elderly "colonel," who seems to be attracted to her. Three stories: his wife's illness and eventual death; that long-ago summer of his youth; and the present tenants of the rooming house, all merge together in a chronological jigsaw picture to result in a surprising and clever ending, one that reveals several layers of information.

The ending is beautifully well-written and soul searching. At least it was for me. Banville is a brilliant writer, and his novel is a flight in literary excellence.


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James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.

Available via order on the Internet on Amazon and all other Internet retailers, including any book store. In stock at several book stores, including Book People in Austin, Tamarack on the West Virginia Turnpike, and in Hearthside Books in Bluefield, WV.


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