John Banville at first astounded me with the poetic quality of his prose. It was quite clear I'd begun a book that had been deeply pondered, carefully written, and thoughtfully revised. Banville is Irish, and like other Irish authors I've come across, the prose holds high expectations for the reader. I want to be the type of reader that reads slowly enough to fully appreciate the work the author put into the words. Last week, I was not that reader. I just didn't make the time.
So it seems The Sea is joining the pile of books I will need to reread, perhaps next month, or (more realistically) in 2018. So be it. Were I not trying to read as much as possible this year, I might have spent an entire month with Banville and never moved on to anything else. So I'm glad for having skimmed The Sea, even if it didn't do it full justice.
This book is told by protagonist Max Morden, an aging man dealing with the recent death of his wife, Anna, to cancer. Deep in rumination of his present and past life, he returns to the seaside town where, in his childhood, he met the Grace family--twins Chloe and Myles, and their parents, Connie and Carlo. The book, which stands in two chapterless parts (though thankfully there are plenty of section breaks), does mimic the procession of waves upon a sea strand. Banville pushes the reader into Max's present life, then pulls the reader back into the past, into Max's memories. It's incessant; I struggled to stay "afloat" in this book.
Nicholas Lezard, writer for The Guardian, wrote in his review of The Sea:
"This is not so much a novel about memory as an examination of what it is to have a memory at all, to have had experiences that seem to be on the brink of slipping away."
- Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian, "A strange kind of remembering," 5 May 2006.
Thinking back on my own growth as a writer and a person, I recall my obsession with the interplay of memories into my present-day life. I was often unaware of how strongly my prose reverted to writing about memories rather than the current, forward-moving action. I would effortlessly, unconsciously slip into childhood recollections while writing. Even having briefly read The Sea, I notice the similarities between my own writing and Banville's; the switch between present and past more often confused than it clarified. That is to say: this book would have been much easier to read had Banville written his sections using a consistent clock--one clock moving forward in the present tense, and another moving forward, but from the past. As in: a 1960 clock, and a 2005 clock. Both moving forward.
Whew. Check out this brief summary of The Sea if you're interested in reading it. It did win the Man Booker Prize, so it's worth a look-see if you're eager to read some challenging, poetic prose. (Hey, it can't hurt to try?)