Wednesday, December 13, 2017

THE SEA by John Banville

Max Morden has returned to a coastal villa that once was the summer residence of childhood playmates Chloe Grace and her mute twin brother Myles.  The Grace family appealed to Max not only because they were more affluent than his own family but also because young Max was initially attracted to Mrs. Grace.  This infatuation eventually dwindled as his attraction to Chloe grew.  The narrative goes back and forth in time, and in the present Max is still reeling from the death of his wife, Anna.  Several important revelations appear late in the novel, including the disclosure of a character’s identity, which I had already figured out.  The big question all along is what happened to Chloe and Myles.  We do find out the answer to that question, sort of.  However, there are lots of other dangling questions, including the subject of an argument between two women at dinner.  This omission seems like a copout to me.  The author also teases us with some snippets of another conversation that are intended to mislead us, as well as the other characters who overhear the conversation.  I found this to be a little cheesy as well.  He could have at least made the snippets a little more ambiguous.  After finishing the novel, I reread this section, and I’m even more baffled than ever, wondering if the snippets of conversation are not indicative of the rest of the conversation or if one of the participants in the conversation is not being truthful.  Myles’s inability to speak is never explained, either.  Perhaps the storyline just demanded his silence.  This novel beat out Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Julian Barnes’s Arthur and George for the 2005 Booker Prize, but I’m not sure why.  Perhaps the judges were swayed by the author’s prodigious vocabulary.  I finally dug out my ancient paperback dictionary, but many of the unfamiliar words were not there.  The upside is that now I understand the difference between the verbs “blanch” and “blench”—more or less.

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