Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Sea by John Banville

This won the 2005 Man Booker prize, and I understand why.

Banville has a way with wordcraft. His prose sparkles and winks at you; the sentences slide and slither through one another and you begin to feel as though you are buoyant on them, and they are carrying you downstream, onto the Irish coastline on which The Sea is set.

Max returns to this piece of coast that he used to holiday at as a boy, now a much older man. Having suffered a terrible loss, he is escaping to his past – although what he finds when he probes the depths of his own memory is just as traumatic as what he is hiding from. The Grace family shape themselves from Max’s memory and we meet the children: beautiful, cruel Chloe Grace and her mute twin, Myles. The three of them are fast friends; Max is aware even at that stage that Chloe and Myles are of a higher ‘class’ than he, and wears their stature like a flag.

Through Max’s exploration of himself, past and present, we are taken on a journey of the mind more than anything else. How does he come to terms with all that transpires? How does he fit into the grand scheme of everything? Questions of blame and guilt arise, and Max is forced to scratch at memory-scabs that he thought had long scarred and healed.

As mentioned above, Banville’s writing is a sensuous delight. At times I felt overwhelmed by the richness of a sentence, I had to go back and take it in portions. It is just like a delicious dessert – your senses are stimulated to such a degree that you may start to feel slightly ill. The Daily Telegraph's blurb says: “they are like hits of some delicious drug, these sentences.” And perhaps that is a better simile.

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