Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Athena K's Review - The Sea

I really thought I would enjoy The Sea.  I have a high tolerance for descriptive character driven novels where almost no action occurs.  I really enjoyed The Gathering - see! I like depressing Irish writing about death and memory.  And Banville has such a way with words!  I found myself looking up a new word on my iPhone dictionary app (which is free, and yes, I am a nerd) on every other page - I can't remember the last time my vocabulary was challenged so much.  And Banville always always chooses exactly the right word, which results in a vivid description of a thing or a place.  This book is full of tiny moments of great loveliness, and arresting descriptions of very ordinary things.

Then why didn't I love it?  The beautiful words and images just washed over me, leaving almost no impression at all.  I think the key issue for me was Banville totally failed to make me feel emotionally invested.  The main character is a boring man - he even admits it himself!
... the congeries of affects, inclinations, received ideas, class tics, that my birth and upbringing had bestowed on me in place of a personality.  In place of, yes.  I never had a personality, not in the way that others have, or think they have.  I was always a distinct no-one...
And I have to say the "big reveal" at the end, was a yawn.  The fact that it involved a character who was almost never described or discussed made it feel like a bad mystery novel - how were we supposed to know that person was whodunnit when the author never talked about them!

At least for me, beautiful prose alone ultimately falls flat.  I need some more personality.


  1. I felt much the same way you did. To me it seemed like a "good" novel that never really caught fire. Blah.

  2. I've not read this but I get the picture you painted: promising much and failing to deliver.

  3. This book is one of those 'emperor's new clothes' type Booker nominees if you ask me. A lot of critics seem to go into chin-stroking ecstasy about it, in much the same way that film critics rhapsodise about obscure Ukranian black-and-white movies. In actual fact, this book is very, very dull and should not be read by anybody who has a viable alternative. This book should be taken into the sea and held under the waves until it can't do any more harm.