torstai 13. tammikuuta 2011

John Banville: The Sea

That is why the past is 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.

I read this novel some time ago as part of my 2011 reading challenge about Booker Prize winners, but haven't had time to write anything about it yet. Irish author John Banville's novel won the Booker in 2005 and I have to say that so far it is the Booker winner that has disappointed me the most (well, I haven't read that many of them yet...). And I can't believe that it was up against Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and came out as the winner!

The novel's main character is an ageing art historian, Max Morden, who returns to the seaside where he spent his holidays as a child. We gradually learn that he is trying to recover from the recent loss of his wife to cancer. At the same time, he is forced to come to terms with a childhood trauma that involved his meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Grace and their twins. Max spent a summer with the twins as a boy and his memories of the voiceless, mysterious Myles and the aggressively passionate Chloe have left a mark in him.

The setting and themes of the novel are similar to those of Ian McEwan's novels. Everything in The Sea is about the subtleties of human relationships, what is said and what remains unsaid, the shadow of the darker sides of human nature - hidden violence and sexuality. The gloomy seaside with a strange atmosphere reminded me especially of McEwan's On Chesil Beach as well as Colm Tóibín's novel, The Blackwater Lightship, which also takes place on the coast of Ireland. But both of those novels were far better than this one, in my opinion.

So I have to disagree with the back cover of the novel, which describes it as "utterly compelling." The Sea is slow to read, difficult to grasp and gets easily boring. It is a celebration of nostalgia where nothing much happens: a man returns to his childhood setting and starts to remember things. Memories are reconstructed as the story moves back in time. Even the language of the novel is somehow old-fashioned, like a voice from the past. This was a slow and challenging book: carefully constructed and written, but almost too careful and thoughtful for me.

John Banville: The Sea. Picador. 2005.

The NY Times Sunday Book Review: "Drowning Man"
The Literary Magazine: "Dipping a Toe in John Banville's The Sea"
Wikipedia: The Sea
Wikipedia: John Banville
Buy The Sea from The Book Depository

1 kommentti:

  1. Joskus vaan joutuu pettymään ja olemaan eri mieltä palkintoraatien ja kriitikkolainauksien kanssa. Laitan korvantaakse, että välttelen tätä kirjaa ;)