The Sea – John Banville

22 May

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the Booker, it’s that writing about grief is the surest way to a nomination!! Being British and Irish helps a little and convoluted sentences, lyrical prose, maudlin characters, vague plotlines all steadily increase chances of winning…I could go on, but you get the picture 😛 I’m no expert but it’s beginning to feel that way! Frankly, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed & exhausted with all these books that deal with grief in its various forms, no matter how well they’ve been written or how original the author’s approach has been. After a while, grief is just that – grief, and there’s just so much of it I can take! Seriously! Why can’t ‘serious’ literature include Wodehouse and have me in splits? But then I take my humor very seriously 😉 Out of the seven Bookers I’ve read so far, only two have not had grief as their main theme – The White Tiger & Wolf Hall. Although The Finkler Question isn’t purely about grief, it is the catalyst that drives the narrative. The rest have been all about people dealing with grief and although some authors have managed to move me with their language and style, the whole thing is getting a bit much for me now! So if you’ve read The Sea and loved it…I’m happy for you. If I hadn’t read so many grief-ridden books before, maybe I would have loved it too 😛

Well, that doesn’t leave me with much else to say now does it? 😛 I read this book before the move to Bombay, but didn’t get around to writing the review then, caught up as I was in settling down into my new Life. I re-read it in parts in the last couple of weeks so I could finally get this review out! The first time I read it, the twist (for want of a better word, ‘revelation’ perhaps) at the very end, intrigued me and I remember thinking, “Well, well, that’s interesting. Didn’t think of that!” But even after reading the whole book, I didn’t get the ‘Gods’ suicide…the why of it still remains a mystery to me. Perhaps there were nuances, hints in the narrative I missed? Possibly. Did I mention I was exhausted? 😛 The story? Yet again, a man dealing with the death of his wife, by moving to the village he holidayed in as a child. The village is also where he met the Grace family that fascinated & mystified him for one fateful summer. The twins Chloe and Myles become his companions and a ‘friendship’ of sorts develops until tragedy strikes. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t get why the tragedy happened. It hit me out of the blue much as it did Max! Guess I’m as dense as him 😛 We neither of us saw it coming!

Once again, the author has fabulous command over the English language and I had to use the dictionary quite a few times for this one! At times that intrigued me and at others it was predictably annoying 😛 Still, his prose is pretty decent. I wish I could say the same for his characters. Although he manages to make an average family intriguing, none of them really hooked me good and proper. I didn’t feel like I got to know any of them well, except to some extent Max, the main character, who came across as a clueless, petulant, self-obsessed child who turned into much the similar adult! His wife Ann and daughter Claire I liked and I wish there was more of them, especially of Claire. The Grace family, for all the aura Banville bequests them, failed to captivate me. The only figure I found vaguely interesting was Mr. Grace and yet I have this constant feeling of untapped potential in reading him. There were times I wished the author was less subtle and almost always less vague. Once again, the author narrates the story in the form of memories recalled – a popular format with the Bookers – and so the vagueness I suppose is mandatory coz that’s how human memories work. I’m just ready to move on and read something different.

Will I read other books by Banville – maybe. But not anytime soon. Soon after I read The Sea, I read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, one of my favourite authors. She too deals with death and loss in her book and explores the tragedy through the relationship between a grandma and her grand-daughter. Her style however is simple and direct and she never fails to make her point. If I have to read about grief, I would rather have it her style. But then books are always a matter of personal choice (like everything else), and one man’s novel is another man’s…what exactly? Never mind!

What matters is – another one bites the dust!! Next in Line is 2004 winner – The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst and as far as I can tell from the blurb – it’s not another grief-fest!! Thank God for small mercies 🙂

1 Comment

Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Booker Reviews


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One response to “The Sea – John Banville

  1. Munira

    May 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Spot on H!! We think alike 🙂 But you are far superior in articulating your thoughts on books than I……


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