Saturday, January 20, 2007

Book #3 for 2007: The Sea, by John Banville

I admire this book a lot more than I like it. John Banville's prose is magnificent to the point that it is sometimes distracting. True, there are sentences that are so well-constructed that one stops to re-read them and ponder their beauty. At the same time, though, it is this very attention to detail and overly dense work that makes the book tiresome to read at times. I wanted Banville to get on with the story rather than spend so much time making me love his words.

The other real problem that I had with The Sea is its constant fiddling with chronology. I completely understand the purpose behind it - stories from the distant past, near past and present all had their connections - but it was yet another interruption to the overall reading experience as far as I was concerned. Additionally, I knew almost from the beginning how the novel would end, which perhaps is just a factor of how well the character clues were placed, but I was disappointed nonetheless.

As far as the book's themes, I believe that Banville does have something intriguing to say both about coming-of-age and aging. The narrator of the novel has been through much and has consistently been able to adapt himself to his situation (always a greater situation than he deserved, probably) but it is in the aftermath of death that he finds himself unable to move to a new phase of life.

I'm frankly a little surprised that this novel won the Man Booker Prize for 2005 over two books that I feel are more deserving. Ali Smith's The Accidental covers very similar ground but does so in a much more engaging, intriguing fashion. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is also one that I would have preferred to see win the prize. Like The Sea, it's a story where the secrets become evident quickly, but there is a much greater reward in approaching the conclusion.


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