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After writing about a Man Booker Prize nominee yesterday, I decided today that I'd write a short review about a winning book that I recently read, John Banville's "The Sea", winner in 2005.
I'm a published writer myself, though alas so far of only short stories (I don't count reviews as real publishing - sorry if you do) but I do have a growing stack of novels (eight, to be exact) that I'm endlessly trying to sell. While my short stories tend to lean towards mundane sci-fi and traditional horror because those are the types I find easiest to sell, my novels are of varying genres, each one different. I've done horror, comedy, goth romance, sci-fi, psychological thriller, pop culture, and last year I decided I wanted to try literary fiction, and of course win the Booker Prize(!). In order to find out what was necessary, I decided to read a few previous winners to get an idea.
I looked up the list of previous winners and ordered this book and another called The Gathering (which is currently gathering dust on my bookshelf, only half-read).
The Sea is the story of an old art historian called Max. In the aftermath of his wife's death, he goes back to the seaside town where he spend his childhood, to reflect on his life and revisit the memories of his childhood, in particular of his play chums, Myles and Chloe Grace.
It always bugs me when I read an interview with an influential mainstream author in which they spit on literary fiction as if it was some kind of pompous rubbish that only toffs can enjoy, because I've read many a book labelled "literary" which was extremely good, had a strong plot and was written as well as the label suggested. Two that come to mind are "Atonement" by Ian McEwan (although McEwan's "Saturday is dull rubbish) and Jan Martel's "Life of Pi". "The Sea", however, unfortunately falls into the aforementioned category.
It's not that it's really rubbish. It's well written, descriptive, and evokes nostalgic emotions in the reader. It's just that it's boring. Very little happens. We have entire chapters where Banville describes Max playing at the seaside with the Grace twins where nothing of any particular note happens. Max spends a lot of time just wandering around, reflecting on his relationship with his daughter and his dead wife. There are a lot of internal monologues - the first sign that a book doesn't have much of a plot.
"The Sea" is the kind of book that probably gets onto high school Eng Lit syllabus lists, where the teacher will sit at the front salivating over the prose while the students try to keep their eyes open. I don't like to slate it because it was obviously good enough to win one of the world's biggest fiction prizes, but if this is what's necessary to win the Booker Prize then no thank you, I get enough sleep at night, I don't need to fall asleep while I'm trying to write.
It's mercifully short at just 262 pages, and I did manage to get to the end, only because I wanted to read about this big dramatic event that is constantly alluded to throughout the novel. However, when it does finally happen it isn't actually very dramatic at all and left me feeling a little short-changed, even if I only bought this through Amazon Marketplace.
Overall, I'm pleased that I read this book, if only to understand better the kind of book I don't want to write, but I can't recommend it.