An amazing book, probably one of the most affecting, beautiful and unsettling I have ever read, The Sea is an intense meditation on grief and memory. Banville's prose is brilliant, challenging and poetic, and even though it’s highly polished there's also rawness to it. His characters are memorable, and Banville has the ability to conjure them for us, fully realized, out of the smallest details and phrases.
Retreating, following the death of his wife, to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers, Max Morden reminisces about his wife, and in particular about the fateful summer when, as a boy, he met the Grace family. Banville presents us with Morden’s interwoven thoughts, memories, and fears in startling and at times uncomfortable detail. Morden is not an easy character to like, but somehow I was drawn into his compelling world of rememberance and grief. I was particularly struck by how Morden’s memories of his childhood were both childlike and knowing, in the sense that while they were the products of an adult author writing the memories of his adult narrator, they also conveyed that oddly-directed clarity that, for me at least, characterizes certain childhood memories of my own.
Everything about this book, from Morden’s memories of the seductive and strange Grace family, to his anger and guilt over his wife’s death, to the descriptions of his fellow lodgers at the seaside guest-house, are absolutely crystalline. This is the first novel I have read in a long time where I really got the sense that every single word was carefully chosen. An excellent book.