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The Sea

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Author John Banville
ISBN 9780307263117
Pages 208
Condition Good
Format Hardback

The story is told by Max Morden, a self-aware, retired art historian attempting to reconcile himself to the deaths of those whom he loved as a child and as an adult. The novel is written as a reflective journal; the setting always in flux, wholly dependent upon the topic or theme Max feels to write about. Despite the constant fluctuations, Max returns to three settings: his childhood memories of the Graces-a wealthy middle-class family living in a rented cottage home, the "Cedars"-during the summer holidays; the months leading up to the death of his wife, Anna; and his present stay at the Cedars cottage home in Ballyless-where he has retreated since Anna's death. These three settings are heavily diced and impromptly jumbled together for the novel's entire duration. Max's final days with Anna were awkward; Max does not know how to act with his soon-to-be-dead wife. Scenes of Anna's dying days are more full of commentary than with actual details, as are most of the novel's settings. It's through these commentaries that we learn of Max's choice to return to the cottage of his childhood memories (after Anna's death), confirming that a room would be available for residence during a visit with his adult daughter, Claire. We learn of the Cedars' current house-maid, Miss Vavasour, and her other tenant: a retired army Colonel, often described as a background character (even during his important role in the denouement). The Colonel is also seen, at the beginning of Max's stay, to have a crush on Miss Vavasour; Max suspects Miss Vavasour had entertained the Colonel's slight infatuation prior to Max's own arrival. Despite the actual present day setting of the novel (everything is written by Max, after Anna's death, while he stays in the Cedars home), the underlying motivation to Max's redaction of memories, the single setting which ties the novel together, are Max's childhood memories. With Max's unreliable, unorganised and omitted iteration of events, we gradually learn the names of the Graces: Chloe, the wild daughter; Myles, the mute brother; Connie, the mother; Carlos, the father; and finally the twins' nursemaid, Rose. After brief encounters, and fruitless moments of curiosity, Max becomes infatuated with Connie Grace upon first sight; seeing her lounging at the beach launches him to acquaint Chloe and Myles in, what Max stipulates to have been a conscious effort to get inside the Cedars, hence, closer to Mrs. Grace. He succeeds. Later, Max recounts being invited on a picnic-for what reasons or what specific time during the summer is never explicitly stated-where Max, in awe, catches an unkempt glance at her pelvic area. This day of "illicit invitation" climaxes when Max is pulled to the ground, and snuggled closely with Connie and Rose in a game of hide-and-seek. The latter half of his summer memories (the relation of Max's memories in the second part of the novel), however, revolve around Max's awkward relationship with Chloe: a girl with a spastic personality and blunt demeanor whom Max describes as one who "[does] not play, on her own or otherwise". Chloe is shown as a volatile character: flagrantly kissing Max in a Cinema, rough-housing with her brother Myles, and what was hinted as hypersexuality earlier, is quite possibly confirmed as hypersexuality in the book's final moments. We soon learn that Chloe and Myles like to tease Rose, who is young and timid enough to feel bullied. Max, another day, climbs a tree in the yard of the Ceders house, and soon spots Rose crying not too far from him. Mrs. Grace soon emerges, comforting Rose. Max overhears (rather, Max remembers overhearing) key words from their conversation: "love him" and "Mr. Grace". Assuming this to mean Rose and Mr. Grace are having an affair, he tells Chloe and Myles. The ending of the book entwines the exact moment of Anna's death with Chloe and Myles drowning in the sea itself as Max and Rose look on. Max, done with his childhood memories, offers a final memory of a near-death episode while he was inebriated. The Colonel does not physically save Max, rather finds him knocked unconscious by a rock (from a drunken stumble). His daughter scolds him at the hospital, assumingly being told he nearly killed himself, and tells him to come home with her. It is revealed at this point that Miss Vavasour is Rose herself and she was in love with Mrs. Grace. Max finishes with a redaction of himself standing in the sea after Anna's death (an allegory is made between crashing waves and tumultuous periods of his life). We are to assume that he will leave the Cedars' home to be cared for by his daughter, Claire.
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