Broccoli.. I never really liked it growing up. I couldn’t have dessert until it was gone.. all gone. Not hidden under mashed potatoes gone, not stealthily flung into the dogs dish gone.. but gone! So I suffered through it. Desert was delicious, broccoli.. eh, it wasn’t ice cream or cake! ***timewarp*** 20 years later I grew it for the first time in my garden. I steamed it up and ate it again and yet for the first time. The flavor was indescribably wonderful. It was sweet, crisp and the texture gave way to a freshness I had not experienced in a very long time. It is still not cake but it is now an annual crop in the garden. It is on the plate the same day it is cut. My experience with this book was a similar rediscovery, not of vegetables, but of a sense of self. This book evoked feelings and memories I had shelved and presented them in a new light. It was a wonderful journey not only through eyes of Max, the main character, but of myself.
“That is why the past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet.”
The Sea by John Banville is a book about experiences and the lens through which we see them. If you need an action filled page-turner than you may want to look elsewhere. The plot is sparse and simple by design. We follow a man named Max Morden as he returns to the place of his childhood. Having lost his wife to cancer the year before he is eager to make sense of life and his future. He stays in a rented vacation house where two of his childhood friends, Chloe and Myles, grew up. There is a mysterious tragic undertone that is present from the beginning. As the novel moves on we are presented with more clues to this event and how it has shaped the life of Max. The book is not so much about the action sequence but an introspective journey about the lessons of life, loss and love.
“Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, the will butting its blunt head against the world’s wall, suchlike, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit it, for cosiness.”
The language in this book can be described as rich, vivid and dripping with imagery. John Banville has a command for the English language that deserves respect. He makes the impersonal personal. The reader feels as much as Max does. We share and see in our own lives the failures and triumphs of Max. We see the sweetness in love and loss. In the end it is not so much a novel about Max but of us. It is great journey through the simplicities of life and their greater meaning. It does not tell you how to feel but shows you how to feel. It was a wonderful journey down the path of thought.
I can see this novel either being loved or hated. I think one either connects or finds nothing in the pages but a short story about a man and his childhood. My hope is that you find the former. For those who like beautiful language you will not be disappointed. This novel begs to be read slowly, savoring each slice of beautiful prose. This novel has more highlights in my Kindle than any other book. It has a poetic quality that is simply not found in many modern works. For this reason among others it won the 2005 Man Booker prize.
If you enjoy a wonderful rediscovery, then eat your vegetables and grab this book. At 210 pages it is not the quick read one may think. Grab a sample or look inside to be sure you like it. If you do.. then you may have just earned your desert.