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The Sea by John Banville
The Sea

mgmpbd, January 1, 2010

In this extraordinary novel, widower Max Morden remarks on the omnipresence of the past, which beats inside him "like a second heart". Returning to the resort town of his youth unleashes a torrent of nostalgia which threatens to upend Max permanently. Maintaining a precious - and tenuous - grasp on the present, he vacillates between the twin sirens of remembrance and possibility:

"So what I foresaw for the future was in fact, if fact comes into it, a picture of what could only be an imagined past. I was, one might say, not so much anticipating the future as nostalgic for it...And suddenly now this strikes me as in some way significant."

Unfolding like a flower, this novel reveals itself in long, languorous, meditative stretches - thus revealing Max as something other than what we have come to believe. The novel's passages are lovely, and delivered in such a way as to make us all feel complicit in the fabrication of our own remembrances. Suffused with melancholy, the story glows with a golden light. This is an extraordinary tale filled with characters who feel both fleshy and dreamlike.

I read this a few years ago, and I can still feel its gentle tug; it has become very much a part of me, and has blurred the line between my own memories and those of the narrator. It feels real, lived in, yet exists in its own, silky literary groove. Along with Murakami's "Hard-Boiled Wonderland", Banville's "The Sea" has entered my consciousness and remained there ever since. A transformative novel.
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