John Banville's The Sea: coping with loss

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The Sea is breathtaking. Middle-aged Max Morden has recently lost his wife of many years to cancer and heads over to the seaside town where he grew up. Alone in a rented shack, he looks back at the meaning of his life and tries to make sense of it—for isn't it true that loss makes one consider what one truly possesses?

Booker Prize-winner John Banville takes the reader to the inward longings, frustrations, and desires of a man who felt like he had everything until he had lost one person who mattered to him. These thoughts occur at random. To call the storyline linear is to commit an injustice. But the reader will do best to ride with the words, to grasp the elemental emotion rather than the overarching story, for the real understanding of the plot will come, inevitably, in the final pages, like a light bulb turned on, illuminating the entire dark room and revealing its beauty. Max's grief is palpable.

Down here, by the sea, there is a special quality to the silence at night. I do not know if this is my doing. I mean if this quality is something I bring to the silence of my room, or even of the whole house, or if it is a local effect, due to the salt in the air, perhaps, or the seaside climate in general . . . It is like the silence that I knew in the sickrooms of my childhood, when I would lie in a fever, cocooned under a hot, moist mound of blankets, with the emptiness squeezing in on my eardrums like the air in a bathysphere. Sickness in those days was a special place, a place apart, where no one else could enter, not the doctor with his shiver-inducing stethoscope or even my mother when she put her cool hand on my burning brow. It is a place like the place where I feel that I am now, miles from anywhere, and anyone . . . What little vessel of sadness we are, sailing in this muffled silence through the autumn dark.

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