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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Sea by John Banville

“When I speak of style, I mean the style Henry James spoke of when he wrote that in literature, we move through a blessed world, in which we know nothing except through style, and in which everything is redeemed by style.” John Banville.

Not all the time, but often enough, he writes the kind of things you want to read:

I was thinking of Anna. I make myself think of her, I do it as an exercise. She is lodged in me like a knife and yet I am beginning to forget her. Already the image of her that I hold in my head is fraying, bits of pigments, flakes of gold leaf, are chipping off. Will the entire canvas be empty one day? I have come to realise how little I knew her, I mean how shallowly I knew her, how ineptly. I do not blame myself for this. Perhaps I should. Was I too lazy, too inattentive, too self-absorbed? Yes, all of those things, and yet I cannot think it is a matter of blame, this forgetting, this not-having-known. I fancy, rather, that I expected too much, in the way of knowing. I know so little of myself, how should I think to know another?

But wait, no, that is not it. I am being disingenuous – for a change, says you, yes, yes. The truth is, we did not wish to know each other. More, what we wished was exactly that, not to know each other. I said somewhere already – no time to go back and look for it now, caught up all at once as I am in toils of this thought – that what I found in Anna from the first was a way of fulfilling the fantasy of myself. I did not know quite what I meant when I said it, but thinking now on it a little I suddenly see. Or do I? Let me try to tease it out, I have plenty of time, these Sunday evenings are endless.

This is a book about memory, or should I say, around memory, the ebb and flow of memory, and the breath of Proust and Beckett is seemingly ever present. Banville insists he is committed to language and to rhythm above plot, characterization, or pacing. And on the evidence of this hugely enjoyable book, that is certainly the case.

If you decide to read this one: you will need a dictionary.

5 Responses to “The Sea by John Banville”

  1. Mark Lynch says:

    Yeah, read it some years ago. Found it subtle and restless, like the sea. Hypnotic for the most part. But every now and again a wave snapped too sharply and I had to work my way back into immersion.

  2. Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for reminding me about the importance of style with such an exquisite example of style at work.

  3. john baker says:

    Good description, Mark. Yes, it did feel just like that.

  4. Dan Theecan says:

    Beautiful. Loved it. Moved me (not so much that I cried!) in so many ways. I remember, back in the days…

  5. […] prose, which makes it a refined work of art, that compels readers to commence their own meditation. John Banville was born in 1945 in Wexford, Ireland, from a father who worked in a garage and a house…secondary school in Wexford. After leaving school John Banville worked for Aer Lingus in Dublin as a […]