Book – The Sea
Author – John Banville
Year – 2005
Genre – Fiction
Pages – 263
Winner of the Booker Prize 2005.
One of the things that I intend to manage eventually over the next few years, is to read all of the winners of the Booker Prize. It is one of the most prestigious book awards here in the UK, and I always keep an ear out for who has been shortlisted. I don’t quite remember why, but when John Banville won in 2005, it is the first one that sticks out in my mind – I have a feeling there may have been some semblance of controversy – and I always said I would read it.
Well, I got around to it. The Sea is effectively set in three places. Max has just lost his wife, and in a fit of grief comes to stay in the holiday town of his childhood. He is writing about the end of his wife’s life, and about the people that he is now staying with – his B&B host Miss V, and the mildly befuddled Irish Colonel – but with much focus on the days of his youth interacting with the somewhat strange family who stayed in the hotel he is now staying at.
Banville’s writing – unsurprisingly for someone who is so highly acclaimed – is excellent. He paints a perfect picture of everything the whole way through, and at no point does this shifting around between places ever seem contrived. The big problem with it is that it is mainly pretty boring.
I know that from a review point of view this is probably pretty unfair, as there is nothing wrong with the book at all – descriptions I have seen of it find pretty much zero faults in it, and from a technical point of view they are probably right – but for the vast majority of the book I was really really bored, and could barely even be bothered to pick it up. The fact that I started this book back in February, and have picked it up only in fits and bursts since then to get through it says it all really.
It is page 196 that things start to get interesting. The whole book is delivered as the writing of Max from his hotel. On page 196, we get a sudden diatribe, swearing and cursing at how he has been left alone. Completely out of character, only half a page long, and never referenced again, it is a wonderful moment in the book, and in fact, one of the best moments in any book I have read this year. It does not continue to be this good for the remainder of the pages, but a marked improvement is made from here, and things stop being quite so boring, but instead begin to come together quite nicely.
Despite this wonderful little moment, I couldn’t honestly recommend this book particularly. Unless of course you are trying to read all of the Booker Prize winners. In which case you had better give it a go.
6/10 (mainly for the final third)