The Sea by John Banville is a Booker Prize winning novel about a widower who revisits a childhood holiday resort shortly after the death of his wife. Here he reflects on a childhood summer, his own daughter and the death of his wife. He’s quite a grim and selfish character; he loved his wife, but seems to see his daughter merely as an adjunct to his own life, and is unhappy about her increasing independence.
This is a book about death and the end of life: about cancer and drowning, about growing old. In this respect it is thoughtful and realistic; it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s also a book about adolescence and about the boy’s first experience of sexuality. It shows him stirred by physical desire and beginning to be aware of the feelings of others. In some ways his confused, limited understanding is similar to that of the child in Michael Frayn’s Spies, and is presented in a similar way.
This year’s Booker prize chair, Peter Stothard, criticises the lack of rigour shown in reviews by book bloggers, and is of the view that literature ought to not just be a page turner, but to offer something new. He would approve of The Sea. Banville uses language in a new and thoughtful way, writing simply but using images and descriptions that are fresh and original in their evocation of details and mood. If you fancy a slow paced, reflective novel that uses language in this serene and beautiful way, you will like this book.