#28 “The Sea” by John Banville

Here we go again. It’s morning at a summer rental house that is in walking distance from the Oregon Coast. I lift my daughter, Layla, out of her chair due to another freaking cluster of seizures hoping that a change of scenery will quell the storm. I carry her out of the house walking across the street to a vacant house’s backyard which abuts up against a cliff overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. Up near the edge I pace the length of the house and I continue to examine my daughter’s face for the ticks and twitches of a seizure refusing to leave. They’ve abated and I breath a sigh of relief, but the damage is done. Cradled in my arms lays a limp and exhausted Layla. I’m at the point of never asking why this has to happen to such a beautiful and innocent child. Thus is the nature of life.


Loved eating the sand!
Maggie loved eating the sand!


Closing my eyes I breath in the cool breeze and exhale the worries and anxieties of the moment, the past, and the future. Opening my eyes I then stare out into the ocean when my senses become immersed in the scene before me. The deserted beach and blue ocean, misty morning air, and the only sound is of the rushing waves. I love this. Then a thought occurs that being out in its element would change my opinion. It’s dangerous out there. The swells sucking underwater its inhabitants, the strong waves capsizing boats, the hypothermia leading to Jack Dawson’s (DiCaprio) death in “Titanic”, and the blood thirsty sharks and other lethal animals residing in its depths. Hmm, from my perspective on safe land the ocean has this rejuvenating spiritual quality but out in its depths it can devour you in a heartbeat.

The setting for John Banville’s “The Sea” is never mentioned but I’m guessing it’s in Ireland since that’s his home. My wife, originally from the state of Oregon, studied abroad in Ireland for a summer and her description of the country has coined a phrase by me that “Oregon is the Ireland of the United States.”

  • Both are known for their drinking. Portland, Oregon was ranked as America’s Best Beer City according to Travel and Leisure.
  • Both have cool wet climates throughout the year that result in  lush green vegetation covering the land.
  • Ireland’s green picturesque rolling hills compare to Oregon’s scenic mountains covered in towering pine trees.
  • Ireland’s history is steeped in folklore. Walk around downtown Portland or watch “Portlandia” and see they are actually living in a mythological world.
  • Ireland is surrounded by the cold Atlantic Ocean. The waters of Oregon’s coast is likewise cold.

Ironically for me the novel takes place at a summer rental home called “The Cedars” also close to the sea. Max, the main character of the story, reminisces over a few significant events of his past including a time in his childhood when he spent an August summer with “The Grace family”. A pivotal month of his life when he experienced his first and second loves and the feelings synonymous with them.  Sweaty hands, jittery nerves, the first electrifying touch when lovers first hold hands, the tingly sensation moving through the body at the kiss, and the smooth feel intimately caressing her inner thigh bordering on the untrodden forbidden land. I recall my first experience thinking “I can’t believe this is happening!” Of course, no great book is without a tragic ending. How nice!

The story moves from that summer to his present state and the torturous memories when finding out his wife was going to die from cancer and her slow painful demise. Banville’s painful description of what he was going through with his wife’s slow passing wasn’t fun to read but enlightening, realizing that many have and many will struggle through the intimate death of a loved one. These words can be of some comfort to know these feelings are normal.

I found this novel a heavy hearted version of a “Wonder Years” episode where Max instead of Kevin Arnold relives the two traumatic events of his life. While writing my rough draft of this blog I continued to ask why he did this? I was about to leave that question unanswered until the thought popped into my head. Max’s wife, a photographer, while dying in a hospital went to the other patients’ rooms and painstakingly took pictures of their wounds (missing limbs, a mother cradling a sick baby, a person laying in bed in a full body cast) and described this as her dossier. Details of a person’s past when collected defines who that person was. Max,I believe was paralleling her behavior in the same way. When all gathered together what was he hoping to reveal about himself? Read it and find out.

There will come a time for all of us when we will form our own dossier. Chances are it will not be filled with memories of good housekeeping, well manicured lawns, or reading accomplishments. Only a few significant moments of doing something amazing or feelings of utter regret letting those moments slip through our fingers. Unfortunately, as described in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (also on “The List”) which my wife Amy will be so kind as to share her thoughts on the novel, in movies they have many takes to get the scene right, but in real life we only get one shot.


3 thoughts on “#28 “The Sea” by John Banville”

  1. wow, very well written, you covered a lot of areas here, funny to find the list you were going by changed, by so many, crazy. The Sea sounds like a book that will make you cry, like watching the Note Book..
    I have read books that will make you sob yet you can’t stop reading them.


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