“The Sea” by John Banville

John Banville is a magnificent prose writer. I loved his earlier book Birchwood, so thought I would try out The Sea, which won him the Booker Prize in 2005. I liked it, but did feel a little bit disappointed.

The writing was still beautiful. The blurb on the cover from the Daily Telegraph was not an overstatement: “They are like hits of some delicious drug, these sentences.” I really enjoyed the descriptions, the rhythm of the prose, the unusual words, the constant freshness of the language.

The characters and plot, though, left me a little cold. In fact, it’s been a few months since I read the book and already I can’t remember much about the plot, which is a bad sign. I wasn’t very interested either in the elderly narrator’s current life or in the childhood reminiscence which make up the majority of the book. At times it is a moving meditation on loss and the passing of time, but I found myself wishing it would go somewhere. The “revelations” at the end of the book didn’t really add much for me either. It ended up being a beautiful ride to nowhere in particular.

I still plan to read more books by John Banville, but to anyone wanting to try him out for the first time I would definitely recommend Birchwood over The Sea.

2 thoughts on ““The Sea” by John Banville

  1. Unfortunately, The Sea was my introduction to John Banville’s writing and it didn’t make me want to read past page 40… or (after a couple of similar experiences) maintain my habit of reading Man Booker prize novels.

    However, on the basis of your recommendation, if I see Birchwood I may well give his writing another go.

    Cheers, Andrew. All the best.

  2. Hi Paul,
    Yes, it’s funny, the Booker prize novels are not always a writer’s best work. I hated Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, for example, but much prefer some of his other, non-winning, books such as Atonement. Hope you like Birchwood!

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