I’m a bit ambivalent about John Banville’s The Sea. I wish he’d put a plot in.
Instead, there are pages full of wistfully charming descriptions and heavily clever observations in search of something to do with themselves.
I got pretty impatient with it. There are characters, but other than the grieving narrator its hard to get a handle on them. It turns out it’s not really the dead wife who drives the narrative but a pair of twins our man met on a youthful holiday, or perhaps another child who I eventually figured out wasn’t a child but the nanny who turns into a later character to tie it all together, who wasn’t in love with the father but the mother and was there when the twins walked into the sea, not quite sure why – but I’ve lost you.
It’s easily done. Even if you went back to figure it all out I’m not sure it would get any more interesting.
The thing that is interesting, that I discovered only after I’d finished it and gone – meh – is that it won the Man Booker Prize in 2005. It was a controversial choice, up against Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Juilan Barnes. Banville himself implied it was a victory for high art over slick popularism. He comes across, like his character, as a bit of a prat.
But this acknowledgement of literary merit perhaps is the reason for my ambivalence and its inclusion in my list of “good reads for book clubs”. I do like a well hung sentence and I did find myself starting to enjoy snippets very much before the story wandered off somewhere else. So I guess I understand why the Booker judges found the novel classy; though classier than Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go? Get your book club to read both and ask yourselves what those judges were drinking!
Then again, if you’re an educated, white, middle class bloke and you have a quiet afternoon in front of you with no expectations of wild adventure or a ripping yarn and are in the mood to finding poignancy in very good prose, this thoughtful, old-fashioned read will suit you well.