Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Sea - John Banville

Banville's novel won the Booker prize in 2005. Art historian (special subject: Pierre Bonnard) Max Morden returns to the small seaside village where he once holidayed as a child. Suffering recent bereavement, he has been drawn back to a scene of ancient trauma.

In that long-ago summer, he had befriended the Grace children - working class 'townie' boy meets up with wilful Chloe and her mute twin brother Myles. Childhood cruelty and the first fumbling stumbles of attraction are followed by unimaginable tragedy.

Max tells the intricate, complex, self-aware story linking those first glimmerings of adulthood with his later marriage to Anna and her protracted death. A profound analysis of the truth and limits of relationships, and the impact and depth of loss.

I read 'The Sea' a few years ago and did so, I'm afraid, rather literally. I am persuaded that Banville's highly metaphorical and self-referential writing almost demands a second reading.

'The Sea' delivers on literature's deepest promise: to tell you more about human experience and the human condition than is possible to one's unaided introspection.

I have on my table yet another Banville novel I've already read: 'The Infinities'. The title, amusingly enough, refers to the infinities in quantum field theory which were finally tamed by renormalisation theory. Naturally, for the erudite Banville, this is yet another metaphor.