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John Banville, The Sea


John Banville, The Sea
Novel by John Banville, The Sea.
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John Banville finally won the Man Booker prize in 2005 with this beautifully crafted and brief novel (nearly a novella) about the pleasures and sorrows associated with the play of language, memory and secrecy. Although Banville is often considered a literary descendant of Nabokov, with his love of rich mellifluous language and obscure diction, he might be more comfrotably compared to other great Irish writers such as James Joyce and Elizabeth Bowen, who also share Banville's evident pleasure at (and grace with) the pliancy and luxury of words. THE SEA might be an expected, yet disappointing choice for winning Banville the Booker, given that its plot so closely apes the structure of one of the most crowdpleasing of all narrative arcs of highbrow fiction from the last forty years. Here yet again, a disappointed elderly narrator looks back to the magical encounter in childhood that forever fired the imagination but also implicated him (or her) in guilt when it led inevitably to a terrible and deadly error. Banville's is an odder variant of this formula -- which goes at least as far back as L. P. Hartley's THE GO-BETWEEN, and was recently repeated in Ian McEwan's much loved ATONEMENT -- in the fundamental dislikeability of all his major characters, a Banville trademark. This causes the stakes of the life-changing incident, and its effect upon the narrator, to seem much less shattering than in Hartley's or McEwan's novels; the repetition of the formula also makes this novel seem much less fresh than in Banville's other works (which often are similarly concerned with the encounters between cruelty and innocence). But Banville is always worth reading if only for his grace with language and with narrative construction: THE SEA is, as usual, beautifully crafted in every formal sense.

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Tags: Banville, often, formula, language, which