Take Yourself Out to ‘Sea’

sea.jpgGentle. Powerful. Subtle. Rich. I just finished John Banville’s The Sea and I am struggling to find words to describe the experience. What an amazing piece of writing. Some books, some writers, have the power to change your mood, to take you to an emotional place you’ve never been. I feel that way about The Sea.

Released in paperback last week, this Man Booker Prize winner is a luminous novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory. The narrator is Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who, soon after his wife’s death, has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child — a retreat from the grief, anger, and numbness of his life without her.

But it is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled vacationing family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. Interwoven are Morden’s memories of his wife, Anna — of their life together, of her death — and the moments, both significant and mundane, that make up his life now. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its effects on him, is at the center of a dramatic, beautifully written novel.

If you don’t mind, here’s one of several passages that, during the reading, I stopped and re-read, more than once:

“We carry the dead with us only until we die, too, and then it is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations. I remember Anna, our daughter Claire will remember Anna and remember me, then Claire will be gone and there will be those who remember her but not us, and that will be our final dissolution. True, there will be something of us that will remain, a fading photograph, a lock of hair, a few fingertips, a sprinkling of atoms in the air of the room where we breathed our last, yet none of this will be us, what we are and were, but only the dust of the dead.”

The Sea is on sale for the list price of $12.95 at River City Books.

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