The first time I encountered a Banville novel was in 2001, it was The Book of Evidence and I quite enjoyed it. True I thought the best bit was the murder scene and nothing else in the book matched those vivid descriptions but I was hooked and I finished it in one sitting.
I had a lot of mixed reactions to ‘The Sea’ though. On one hand the prose is beautiful, moving and stirring and yet, in it’s odd way, indescribably boring. I did struggle to keep my attention focused and it wasn’t the first time that my eyes kept wandering elsewhere and I had to reread certain passages.
The novel focuses on Max Morden, a recent widow and a person who clings to his past. In order to purge himself from the loss of his wife and to revisit his childhood, he decides to visit the seaside resort, which contained many memories of his youth. Especially one incident which left him scarred for life.
Once he begins his visit Morden begins to shift from past to present. His wife’s sickness, the coming of age experiences with The Grace family, who visit the seaside that summer of his youth and his dealing’s with the loss of his wife. Eventually he concludes his memoir with the deaths of the Grace family twins and the death of his wife.
Decay plays a big part here, like Beckett, The characters in ‘The Sea’ are all heading towards some nasty end. One poignant scene in particular describes Morden’s hospitalised wife taking pictures of the gravely injured patients. According to the book death is not a form of release but rather a burden which drags you down slowly. Although the theme of water is prevalent, it is not, as Iris Murdoch depicts it, a form of cleansing but rather a reserve of death. In fact the novel concludes with Morden comparing his experience with his wife’s death as floating in water.
When it comes to the macabre Banville excels, however when it comes to the mundane everyday chores, the novel begins to drag and lose all it’s linguistic flair and thus not making it an enjoyable read. Plus the continuous pessimism grates. I cannot say I actually liked this book but I cannot dismiss it either. However I’m not sure if I’ll read another Banville again for quite a while.