Max Morden, who has just lost her wife, came to a small town where he used to go for summer holiday with his parent when he was a child. In his mourning, Max decided to retrace his memories during the past fifty years, in his effort to get through his grief. This story is half a journal and half a stream of consciousness, written as a beautiful prose. Running simultaneously, Banville takes us to follow three phases of Max’s life: his teenage memories with Grace family; his life with his wife Anna—especially around her illness and her death; and his present visit to Cedars cottage—where the Graces used to stay during summer holidays.
Max came from a poor family, and during summer they often stayed in a small summer house in Ballyless. Being poor, the 11 years old Max was always fascinated to middle-class lifestyle; he liked to watch how the riches spent their holidays in the beautiful cottages, one of them was Cedars cottage. Here he got acquainted with the Graces. He became their intimate friend, and more and more involved in their lives, that the memories stuck forever in him.
The second phase of Max’s life was when his wife Anna was diagnosed for a deadly disease. Max was bewildered, and from then on, until Anna’s death, seemed to be in some kind of hallucination.
The third phase is the present time, when Max, to cure his grief, decided to return to Ballyless, and particularly to the Cedars cottage, which remained a memorable place for him. The cottage was now managed by a Miss Vavasour, who seemed to be pleased to receive Max.
All these three phases jumbled together in Max’s memory, and he told each of it randomly as some events would remind him to some other events. It looks like confusing pieces of a puzzle, and the more we approach the end, the puzzle begins to show its vague shape. And at the end, every mystery would be revealed, and then….the puzzle would be completed, and you will know the whole mysteries; and only then that you can really see inside Max’s deepest soul.
The Sea should be read as literary work; it’s not at all entertaining—except for the beautiful description of the town and the sea—and so, if you read it as merely fiction, you will be disappointed. I can see why Banville won the 2005 Man Booker Prize for this book, as his prose is very deep and intent. I was often amazed at how Max could remember small details from his childhood memories. But I think, it is because he himself captured those moments deep in his soul with his own amazement; that it stayed safely there to be retrieved later, when he needs something to fill or to replace the hollowness left by Anna. When you want to capture a golden moment of your life, just turn on all your senses on your surroundings; the sensation itself would remind you of most of the whole moment later on.
I must admit, that although this is a beautiful prose, I could not enjoy it as I have expected. While I expected a more touching story about a widower’s grief, what I got was a story of a group of problematic people; while I thought it would offer beauty, what I found was uncomfortable scenes. So, at the end, I think three and a half stars were more than decent for The Sea (maybe 21st literary is just not for me anyway…).
I read Indonesian translated edition by Bentang Pustaka
*This book is counted as:*
6th book for Baca Bareng BBI – Oktober theme: Man Booker Prize