Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Sea by John Banville

The winner of the Man Booker Prize 2005, The Sea was nominated as the February read for a group I am in, and given that I am supposed to be co leading the discussion, there was an assumption that I would actually read it!! However, a few of the other people read it before I got to it, and to say that the response was not overwhelming is a fair comment. I therefore kept on putting it off until I could do so no longer, thinking that I wasn't going to like it either, but it actually wasn't too bad.

If you want a crisp outline of the plot, I probably can't do that. In effect this is the story of a man who, in dealing with an extremely pivotal point in his life, is looking back to another pivotal point years earlier.

If you want likeable characters... I don't think I can give you that either. The main character Max is an art historian, and there are lots of references to artists and classic literature to show this to us. The other main characters are Anna his wife, who's role in the book is as a catalyst, and the Grace family, Mr and Mrs Grace and their two children Myles and Chloe.

Do you want lots of actions, lots of events? Hmmm....nope, not much action either. Lots of introspection and memories. Over half way through I was still struggling to figure out what the book was about.

Having said that, whilst The Sea is a meandering trip through two events in a man's life, the writing is beautiful, with many descriptions and evocative word pictures. By the end of the book I was engaged, and was even reading it while waiting for the lights to change on my drive to work. I had however figured out the two big secrets early on, leaving just one that I didn't realise before time.

One of the main reasons that this book was nominated was because last year we read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and I thought it would be fun to compare a book that was nominated with the eventual winner. It will be interesting to see what others thought! I also read the 2004 Man Booker winner, Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, and wonder if maybe I am not cut out for fine literature as this book didn't blow me away either.

Overall, not bad, but I would like a Pulitzer or Booker or other major prize winner to really draw me in, and hold me there, and blow me away. Maybe the next one will.

Rating 4/5


  1. Hey Marg, great review. I only rated The Sea a 3.5. I'm curious to know which of the big reveals came as a surprise to you. But to avoid spoilers here perhaps you should email it to me. I enjoy your blog reviews, thanks for sharing the site with us. Anne from Austin

  2. All will be revealed during our discussion!!!

    Thanks for posting Anne!