The Sea

The SeaJohn Banville was awarded the Mann-Booker Prize for his novel, The Sea. It is quite well written and deals with such unique themes as memory, love, and death. Who wouldn’t love it .. other than me. Actually, I recognize the skill and quality of this novel and found it sufficiently engaging to read to the last page of it’s ho-hum narrative (luckily, it was short). Still. right on the front cover The Washington Post references the novel’s “power and strangeness and piercing beauty” … really?

Similar to my opinion of DeLillo, I just don’t see Banville as deserving the praise he receives. I suspect that both Banville and DeLillo are excellent authors and can write magnificent prose but their novels seem to always disappoint me. One review I read suggested that this was the kind of novel a British writer can cobble together in his sleep. I agree.

Banville, however, does include a passage in his novel that was a clear statement of what I have always professed concerning a supreme being; specifically:

I do not entertain the possibility of an afterlife, or any deity capable of offering it. Given the world that he created, it would be an impiety against God to believe in him.

Or to put it in other words:

The greatest argument against Intelligent Design is that the design is not intelligent.

I know that the growth of religion is closely aligned with the human need to be more important than they actually are, but facts are facts: any god who created humans in his own image is certainly not capable of being the architect of the universe.

BanvilleBut back to Banville who, despite what appears to be a mature attitude toward ancient myths, is considered a top novelist in England and, presumably, around the world. Wikipedia gives us a nice list of his writing and, again like DeLillo, I feel I must read more of Banville’s work before I can dismiss him entirely. To date I have only read two of his novels, both with little enthusiasm.

Short story collection

  • Long Lankin (1970; revised ed.1984)

Novels

  • Nightspawn (1971)
  • Birchwood (1973)
  • The Revolutions Trilogy :
    • Doctor Copernicus (1976)
    • Kepler (1981)
    • The Newton Letter (1982)
  • Mefisto (1986)
  • The Book of Evidence (1989)
  • Ghosts (1993)
  • Athena (1995)
  • The Ark (1996) (only 260 copies published)
  • The Untouchable (1997)
  • Eclipse (2000)
  • Shroud (2002)
  • The Sea (2005)
  • The Infinities (2009)
  • Ancient Light (2012)

Plays

  • The Broken Jug: After Heinrich von Kleist (1994)
  • Seachange (performed 1994 in the Focus Theatre, Dublin; unpublished)
  • Dublin 1742 (performed 2002 in The Ark, Dublin; a play for 9–14 year olds; unpublished)
  • God’s Gift: A Version of Amphitryon by Heinrich von Kleist (2000)
  • Love in the Wars (adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilea, 2005)
  • Conversation in the Mountains (radio play, forthcoming 2008)

Non-fiction

  • Prague Pictures: Portrait of a City (2003)

As “Benjamin Black”

  • Christine Falls (2006)
  • The Silver Swan (2007)
  • The Lemur (2008, previously serialised in The New York Times)
  • Elegy for April (2010)
  • A Death in Summer (2011)
  • Vengeance (2012)
  • Holy Orders (2013)
  • The Black-Eyed Blonde, a Phillip Marlowe novel (2014).

4 responses

  1. as a long-time fan of Banville’s work, I understand why some readers find his writing too much, too precious, and his narratives too thin. His prose is astoundingly beautiful, and he is attempting to do something with prose that gives it the quality of poetry. He has said that ‘a sentence is never really finished; only abandoned.’ I can understand why you might have been a little disappointed in The Sea: I consider it a fine work, but I have read many other of his novels many times so I was prepared for the style, theme and general outlook on life. Because it won the Booker, a lot of people who did not know Banville went out and bought it and some, I am sure, thought ‘what is all the fuss?’ As an introduction to Banville, I would instead recommend either ‘The Book of Evidence’ (also shortlisted for the Booker) or ‘Mefisto’. And for those readers who find him ‘cold’ and ‘distant’ (the usual complaints about his writing), read “The Infinites”: it is a warm, joyous, funny, sad, clever, and very human book. And for crime novel fans, read the Quirke novels he writes as Benjamin Black. A wonderful series set in Dublin in the 1950s. “Elegy for April” is my favourite of the Quirke novels.

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    • I have always had a problem with writers who craft their prose to make it “poetic.” The first problem is that prose is not poetry: they are two different genres. To say that the prose is poetic is, in my literary universe, a meaningless statement. To say that the prose is precise or figurative or incorporates other rhetorical devices which make it rich and complex is more meaningful.

      I often wish that the writers of poetic prose [sic] would drop the pretense of the novel or story and write poetry. Will we ever see a resurgence of poetry or does the publishing world only look for profits in the tedious repetition of tired narratives that vary little from novel to novel?

      I have a copy of both The Book of Evidence and The Infinities so I should be reading them in the near future. Thanks for your thoughts.

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