The Sea – John Banville

A short but intense novel about Max, a middle-aged man who goes back to his childhood holiday home when his wife dies of cancer.  The protagonist wants to revisit his childhood memories by staying in the house where a very influential family lived when he was a kid. The family had two twin children, a boy and a girl, who were absolutely hideous in how they behaved with Max on holiday, and this book explores his memories of how he felt treated by the family.

Lyrically written, it’s a slow read and Banville had a different style of writing, employing long sentences with numerous comma splices (grammar nerd alert), but once you got used to his lengthy sentences, they worked well.

The actual plot was well arranged: the twins with whom Max makes friends (only to find out that they are really awful when together), the mother of the twins (with whom Max falls in adolescent love), the father in the family. Plus there is a really good twist at the end with a few characters which I did not see coming. (Love that when it works.)

Lovely descriptions of the seaside, but more of a psychological description really – how it all felt, how the characters felt. Not too much physical description.

Stunning vocabulary range, although I would probably dread having a conversation with him if he knows this many words. Some of words I needed to look up: cerements, rufous, rubescent, craquelured, groynes, blench, coevals, horrent, cinereal, anabasis, vituperation, prelapsarian, anaglypta, glair, ovine, homunculus, soughing, plangent, apercus, crepitant, refection, casuistry, mephitic, caducous, congeries, crepitant… Phew. I thought I was quite well read, but I have not heard of many of these words. Smackdown.

This enormous vocabulary did start to smell of showing off after a while, and it really slowed down the reading of the book, plot-wise, as I pondered the definition and meaning of the more unusual words (which were not always clear from context).

Another bonus: it’s a book about twins (except these two are really horrible).

More of a broccoli book than anything; hard work to complete, but done with satisfaction.

Man Booker Prize winner in 2005.

2 thoughts on “The Sea – John Banville

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s