Coates on Poetry
The Darkness

The Sea

The SeaThe Sea by John Banville
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Sea is the first Booker Prize Winning novel that I've not cared for. I wasn't engaged by the characters or the story, nor did I particularly care for the writing.

There were some exceptions. For example, this paragraph is quite well-written:

"There was another reason why she must be kept inviolate, unpolluted by too much self-knowledge or, indeed, too sharp a knowledge of me. This was her difference. In her I had my first experience of the absolute otherness of other people. It is not too much to say--well, it is, but I shall say it anyway--that in Chloe the world was first manifest for me as an objective entity. Not my father and mother, my teachers, other children, not Connie Grace herself, no one had yet been real in the way that Chloe was. And if she was real, so, suddenly, was I. She was I believe the true origin in me of self-consciousness. Before, there had been one thing and I was part of it, now there was me and all that was not me. But here too there is a torsion, a kink of complexity. In severing me from the world and making me realise myself in being thus severed, she expelled me from that sense of the immanence of all things, the all things that had included me, in which up to then I had dwelt, in more or less blissful ignorance. Before, I had been housed, now I was in the open, in the clearing, with no shelter in sight. I did not know that I would not get inside again, through that ever straitening gate."

I do want to point out the almost totally random (or at least it appears that way) use of the comma in that paragraph. Commas are missing in some of the places our junior high grammar teachers taught us to use them (which is fine, as punctuation is far more flexible and based on personality that those grammarians taught) but then the comma is used by Banville excessively in some other sentences. The comma also, in places is used where a semi-colon or a dash would more appropriately (according to those orthodox rules) be used. If I were to chat with him, I'd be curious about what internal rules guide his use of commas.

So, that excerpt is fine writing, but this one isn't

"Speaking of the television room, I realise suddenly, I cannot think why it did not strike me before now, so obvious is it, that what it reminds me of, what the whole house reminds me of, for that matter, and this must be the real reason I came here to hide in the first place, is the rented rooms my mother and I inhabited, were forced to inhabit, throughout my teenage years."

First, the transition is awkward and artificial, as if the writer needed to create a way to talk about his adolescence and made the discussion fit just here after a scene in the tv room. But I also dislike the way the clauses pile on one another. No personal objection to run-ons, but this particular run-on is quite awkward, even if the sentence is meant to represent a stream of consciousness.

Then, he used a similar awkward transition three pages later which really rubbed me raw seeing the transition a second time:

"Have I spoken already of my drinking? I drink like a fish. No, not like a fish, fishes do not drink, it is only breathing, their kind of breathing."

Plus that overuses cliches.

Ultimately I found the novel ponderous with its sense of philosophical importance, though to me there was nothing there.

View all my reviews


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