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Publisher's Summary

The author of The Untouchable now gives us a luminous novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory.

The narrator is Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who, soon after his wife's death, has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child; a retreat from the grief, anger, and numbness of his life without her. But it is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled vacationing family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. The seductive mother, the imperious father, the twins; Chloe, fiery and forthright, and Myles, silent and expressionless, in whose mysterious connection Max became profoundly entangled; each of them a part of the "barely bearable raw immediacy" of his childhood memories.

Interwoven with this story are Morden's memories of his wife, Anna, of their life together, of her death, and the moments, both significant and mundane, that make up his life now: his relationship with his grown daughter, Claire, desperate to pull him from his grief; and with the other boarders at the house where he is staying, where the past beats inside him "like a second heart".

What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, vividly dramatic, beautifully written novel, among the finest we have had from this extraordinary writer.

©2005 John Banville; (P)2006 Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Booker Prize Winner, Fiction, 2006

"Brilliant." (Booklist)
"Magnificent." (Publishers Weekly)
"Captivating." (Bookmarks Magazine)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Karen
  • Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 07-20-07


The book itself deserves the Booker prize it received and anything else possible in the way of awards. The contrast between the deeply sad story and the intensely gorgeous language evokes that paradox of despair expressed in beauty. I heard about the book in a round-about way and at first took it for a far older work, the author's willingness to lavish language, description, simile, so fooled me.
What makes THIS version so outstanding, however, is the reading by John Lee. His voice, phrasing, and emphasis are so perfect, his timing especially so apt, that I have trouble imagining the book without it.

27 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

the sea

I've been inside the heads of alot of old men lately; Mr Sammler's Planet,Gilead,The History of Love. I thought it was as good as these other novels. Without much real action or suspense, I was glad to journey with this old man to the end.
It was so beautifully written, insightful, humorous at times and just so human.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lydia
  • Stouffville, Ontario, Canada
  • 02-22-11

Dark, depressing, realistic but so poetic!

Having a love of Ireland lead me to listen to this book, one of my first audible downloads. While this book has to be described as dark and somewhat depressing, the upside is that the writing is the work of an absolute poet and perfectionist of the English language. Sublime! Regarding the narrator, he is superb. He sounds as if he truly loves the book and each and every character.

I felt tentative about this book at first; the language complex, the story dark. But I encourage readers to stick with it because the past and present are subtely inter-woven, the characters mysterious and interesting, and every question falls neatly into place at the end without the need for any purfunctory happy endings or elevation of character. The story is essentially about life and death and the emotions surrounding them, told by a "man"!

So...if you are interested in literature but written recently, give this awesome book a read. I was very impressed!

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • David
  • Coburg, Australia
  • 11-03-10

Let it flow over you

I had not heard of Banville before this. What is it about the Irish? The command of the language, the humour, pathos, gentility, insight was astounding. At the end I felt I had lost a friend! Beautifully read, this was a true pleasure. It was a gentle journey that could have gone on and on! I recommend this anyone with an interest in the human condition!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 07-24-15

The past beats inside me like a second heart.

Over the years, I've collected about 2 or 3 Banville books. The first was given to me by a girl I liked in HS, but never got around to reading it or dating her. I was finally inspired (or moved?) to read 'the Sea' (and a couple other Ireland-themed novels) because I was going to spend a week with the wife in Ireland and there is nothing better to read about on vacation than sex*, death, loss and sand. It was beautiful. It was poetry. It was nearly perfect.

It is easy to borrow images and allusions from other critics. It is easy to park Banville next to Beckett or Joyce (yes, fine, they all dropped from their mother's wombs onto the same emerald island). It is easy to play the literary cousin game and compare Banville to Proust or Nabokov or Henry James. These things are all true. They are also all fictions and obvious short cuts.

I haven't read enough of Banville to say he measures up to Proust or Nabokov, but damn this book was fine. There really must be something in the water because I'm reading Enright's The Gathering right now and my first thought was 'da feck'? Two Man Bookers by Irish novelists about drowning, death and memory. I'm sure there is more than water and whiskey to this island.

Anyway, I loved and adored 'The Sea'. I used those slick little page-markers everytime I came across a line of Banville's that seemed especially quoteable. I gave up when I ran out of markers. The edge of the book looked like a colorful Stegosaurus with markers dancing up and down the pages.

John Lee, as alwasys, was amazing in this narration. He truely is one of the noble and great narration gods.

* On a side note. It is VERY rare that a writer can actually write about sex without making me want to run from the room. They either make it too clinical (like a doctor popping zits) or too silly (like the cover of a romance novel) or too ethereal (like clouds copulating). Joyce could do it. Nabokov could do it. And I'm proud to say Banville can do it too.

21 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

A muddy stream.. of consciousness

OK first John Lee can read a phone book and it would be worth listeng to. This tale is about a person who spends time at THE SEASHORE, not at sea. He has a troubled tragic life and time and remembers it all with you as he writes this. He does not however remember it in any logical form but rather changes time and characters extensively. This left me as the reader lost to figure out what was what and when it all happened. This detracted from whatever story he was trying to tell. In movie form you might have visual cues as to where the pieces of his life fit together but I didn't like it here. Now you may say that I have no appreciation for his artfull stream of consciousness and rich descriptive language. The former no the latter yes.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Insight, wit and gorgeous prose

If you’re disappointed by books that seem to be recycling ideas, language, and stories you’ve heard somewhere else before, this book will provide much-needed relief.
The prose and creative use of the English language will remind you of Dickens, but the plot is very contemporary. The protagonist’s insights about life, death, and humanity in general, are profound. To top it off, It is read by someone with an Irish accent so thick It immediately whisks you away to the Irish seaside town in which the story takes place. The story is bittersweet verging on sad, but so is life.

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  • Performance
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  • Jeb
  • Stinson Beach, CA, United States
  • 09-03-16

Your Patience Will Be Rewarded

If thrills, chills, spills and suspense is what u seek, this listen is not for you. The pace is lugubrious, purposefully so as an old man alternately grieves for his dead wife and recalls his mean-spirited, joyless childhood. Once we understand where the author is going with his unreliable and, at times, reprehensible narrator, the mastery of this work is revealed. We may not like the narrator, yet we still care about what or might happen to him. The poetic prose might seem tedious at times, and the brogue a mite overdone, but again with masterful intent. And the end is well worth waiting for. Stick with it you'll be glad you did!

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

A Time to Live and to Die

Blanville captures so beautifully both the time to live (the coming of age, young love or lust) and the time to die (oneself, and to reflect on the death of loved ones) in the rightly acclaimed winner of the Booker Prize. It evoked in me so many of the times of my youth, many of them painful, embarrassing or both (like the misapprehended longings and misjudged romances) and put into perspective so many of the things that I saw my grandparents go through toward the end of their lives. The language is languid and precise; placed together like a purposefully created ceramic mural. And that language is old and new (the resonance of the frustrated swearing juxtaposed to the prose still echoes in my minds ear). Really lovely.
By comparison (and I know that I wade into deep water here), I find John Lee's reading challenging. I am not sure why that it. Perhaps the Celtic rasp doesn't suit my ear. But like "100 Years of Solitude", the cadence just didn't sympathetically meet my expectation, albeit Irish-like. Alas, there are so many Irish lilts that I just wasn't taken with this one. That doesn't mean that the performance was bad; just not as I expected.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Dark beauty of depth and humanity

A beautiful evocation of memories past and present. A long poem of sorts. It rises and takes you, like the sea itself.