Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Sea” as Want to Read:
The Sea
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Sea

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  18,800 Ratings  ·  1,861 Reviews
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2005

When art historian Max Morden returns to the seaside village where he once spent a childhood holiday, he is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma.

The Grace family had appeared that long-ago summer as if from another world. Mr and Mrs Grace, with their worldly ease and candour, were unlike any adults he had met
Paperback, 264 pages
Published July 1st 2005 by Picador (first published May 17th 2005)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Sea, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Sea

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 16, 2008 Trisha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I think there's a big difference between literature and fiction, and this book is a perfect example - as is obvious from the number of negative reviews posted on this website! Some books can be read purely for their entertainment value. We like reading them because the plots and settings and characters capture our interest. That's what fiction does. But some books provide an additional dimension for readers who are willing to put a little more time and thought into what they are reading and who ...more
Jun 11, 2013 Cecily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cecily by: Dolors

Ah, the sea - especially the smell of the sea, a phrase as familiar as the idea that aromas have a visceral power to exhume memories we didn’t know we had ever had and lost.

Smells of all sorts permeate the pages of this book and waft up, creating a synaesthetic connection to people and places in Max’s life. My second-hand paper book added a medley of vague aromas of its own. Not something to read on Kindle (though for me, nothing is).


This is an intensely sensual book, but not in the usual
Night, and everything so quiet, as if there were no one, not even myself. I cannot hear the sea, which on other nights rumbles and growls, now near grating, now afar and faint. I do not want to be alone like this. Why have you not come back to haunt me? Is the least I would have expected of you. Why this silence day after day, night after interminable night? It is like a fog, this silence of yours.

What is John Banville’s The Sea all about? An infinite weave of contemplative and melancholic fee
May 26, 2013 Dolors rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who don't want to forget.
Shelves: read-in-2013
"And I, who timidly hate life, fear death with fascination."Livro do desassossego, Fernando Pessoa

“Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it” proclaims Max Morten, narrator and main character of The Sea, after his wife Anna passes away victim of a long and enduring illness.
Drowning in the grief which comes with the vast and ruthless sea of loss, he decides to seclude himself in the little coastal village where he spent his summers as a boy. A flood of unavoidab
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

The past beats inside me like a second heart.

Max Morden had met once gods. They came in the guise of Grace family. Father, noisy lecherous satyr. Mother, oozing sensuality indolent goddess, will become his first erotic fascination. And twins. Chloe, very mature for her age, feisty girl with rather strong personality and Myles, shy and impish boy. There was Rose yet, nanny or governess, a sad nymph holding a secret in her heart. They rented at the seaside a summer house, called The Cedars.

And no
Sep 16, 2015 Vessey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vessey by: Seemita
Shelves: 4-stars

I wish to thank my wonderful friend Seemita, who is truly an amazing reviewer, for inspiring me to read this book.

"The silence about me was heavy as the sea."

Silence. It is a special kind of language. The language of the dead, of those long gone, of the forgotten, the misunderstood, the hurt, the mad and, sometimes, the content. What do they tell me? What does silence tell me? What does it tell Max Morden? It tells him a story. The story of his life. It embraces him, caresses him, whispers to hi
Jun 08, 2012 Fabian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just have to say it: it's semiunremarkable until page 170 or so (this book, like many in the modern canon, such as “Amsterdam,” another Booker winner, is short in that bittersweet sort of way—perilously malingering, at 200 pages, between being almost a novel, but not quite a novella)—the plot ebbs and flows (ha) through an ocean of profound memories. The narrator chronicles, basically, two points in his life which left him devastated. His first ever, and his latest, all revolve around the sea, ...more
The silence about me was heavy as the sea.
Sitting by the sea, I am trying hard to evade the embrace of camphoric memories that hover schemingly, stroked by the amorous waves. Often this colossal sapphire vial of solitude, seduced by a flicker of cuprous sky or a kiss of the timorous breeze, changes colour and instead of heaping balms of comfort, loathes me with a vision so sharp that a part of me detaches with a vile force and travels into the dense, supine but thorny gardens of bygone land.
Jan 19, 2013 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
- John Banville, The Sea


Over the years, I've collected about 3 or 4 Banville books (just bought a slog more). 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 san
Mar 07, 2008 Kathy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Sea really bugged me. I've never read another John Banville novel, so I don't know whether this one is typical of his writing in general, but nothing irritates me more these days than a writer who has considerable gifts at his command who writes novels that function as elegant window displays for the considerable gifts at his command. The plot of the book, such as it is, finds middle-aged Max Morden retiring to a rented house by the sea, near the "chalets" where he spent his boyhood summers, ...more
Jim Fonseca
Oct 06, 2013 Jim Fonseca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
A gentleman reflects on his life, especially his youth, after the death of his wife. He returns to the formative landscape of his childhood, a modest seaside town and inn in Ireland. It is also the site of the formative tragedy of his childhood. In effect, we have a coming-of-age novel as reflected upon in later life. Instead of the psychological depth of Danish author Jens Grondahl reflecting on his marriage in Silence in October, we get lush descriptions and beautiful turns of phrase. Thoughtf ...more
Mar 31, 2015 Himanshu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the present that lives in the past
The Sea - All that water, perhaps, that inexorable slow flood, or perhaps, that relentless ambulatory constant, is one that consumes time, more like dedimentionizes time, if that's a word, provides a cathartic shoulder, and stands remorselessly tall as if symbolizing an indifferent eternity. It cries within like a whimpering child as if it is made purely of emotions, and it roars in insurmountable outrage at the shore which is in a constant tussle to bind it. But it also retreats like a capric ...more
I actually put this book in the same category as James Frey's "Million Little Pieces": so bad, it was enjoyable to read. But of course this was bad in entirely more ambitious, pretentious ways than Frey could ever achieve. It's been about two years since I read this, so forgive my lack of specificity, but I'll try to pin down some examples of appalling devices that both rankled and tickled me.

-Balliteration: Banville, perhaps due to his over fondness for the first letter of his last name (as ot
Jul 22, 2011 Jay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jay by: Man Booker 2005 Winner
When my wife died suddenly in 1998 from a cerebral aneurysm, one of the things that I did in the wake of her death was to begin to reconnect with people and places that had meaning both for us as a couple and for me alone. In many cases, I ended up returning to places from my own childhood and reconnecting with people whom I had not contacted for years. Both the process itself and the actual reconnections to past places and friends helped me cope with the loss. It also activated memories that I ...more
This review may contain spoilers.

Max Morden, recently widowed and father of a grown daughter, has traveled back to the sea, back to the seaside property that was the scene of a tragic event some fifty odd years ago. He would remember meeting the Grace family and becoming emotionally attached to the mother, Mrs. Grace, and to falling in love with her daughter Chloe.

This is my first Banville book and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Not because I didn't think it would be good, but by how goo
Jan 21, 2009 S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading John Banville is like taking a long, sumptuous bath. In my book, he is one of the finest prose stylists alive. The man can write. His language and sentences are gorgeous.

I’d like to say Banville is a marvel at describing characters but in fact he’s a marvel at describing everything, from a breeze to a rain barrel:

“It was a wooden barrel, a real one, full-size, the staves blackened with age and the iron hoops eaten to frills by rust. The rim was nicely bevelled, and so smooth that one cou
"In those endless October nights, lying side by side in the darkness, toppled statues of ourselves, we sought escape from an intolerable present in the only tense possible, the past, that is the faraway past."

The other week as I was chatting to my mum on the phone we got to talking about books. It's a frequent topic of conversation between us. My mum is very much the reason that I am a lover of the written word. I can just about recall my very first visit to our local library as a little girl
In the face of so many sublime reviews of this book I come up short. After the loss of his wife, Max comes adrift and seeks some kind of fertilization from visiting the seaside town of holidays in his childhood. Nice immersion in people and memories, but ultimately the book came off as too bland as Max had too little at stake, too little impetus to reshape his vision of the world, and not enough angst to take real risks.
Richard Derus
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Description: When Max Morden returns to the coastal town where he spent a holiday in his youth he is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma.

The Grace family appear that long ago summer as if from another world. Drawn to the Grace twins, Chloe and Myles, Max soon finds himself entangled in their lives, which are as seductive as they are unsettling. What ensues will haunt him for the rest of his years and shape everything that is to follow.

Jun 09, 2016 BlackOxford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish
The Depths of Vocabulary

John Banville loves words just as they are. Words like losel, and finical, gleet, scurf, bosky, cinerial, and merd that will really screw up your spell-checker. It's part of his masterful charm. Add his ability to put these words together in velvet sentences, and combine sentences into exquisite narrative, and voila: a writer worth his it were, especially with a title like The Sea. Inspired by Henry James? Very possibly, particularly by The Turn of the Screw and
This novel was a puzzle of contradictions. Max Morden is a recent widower working through his relationship with his wife, Anna, and with his daughter, Claire, while also trying to understand some events from his childhood. Some readers appeared to find this story too bleak; I didn’t. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and their story. In fact, that was one of the problems for me. There was too little of the story and too much description for me. I found myself wading through description to ...more
Mar 28, 2011 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Elegiac” is one of those literary adjectives, having to do with death. You get your fill of that with this one. Hell, the main character is named Max Morden, so what do you expect? Unfortunately, the better written an elegiac novel is, the sadder it seems.

Banville, it’s fair to say, is a writer’s writer. This one got him a Booker Prize, so, lit cred out the wazoo, right? (I love playing the lowbrow in the face of such splendid erudition.) Actually, I can see how highbrows might value The Sea f
Jul 11, 2007 Frank rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: John Banville's Mother
What in the hell just happened. Did I really trudge through all that overly-wrought prose only to curse Banville for producing the hint of redemption in the end of this thesaurus-spawn mud puddle? Thank you Booker Prize for yet another quality laugh. Here's a quality quote for those in doubt:

"seeming not to walk but bounce, rather, awkward as a half-inflated barrage balloon buffeted by successive breath-robbing blows out of the past."

You've got to be kidding me John: here here I say to b'alliter
Apr 16, 2017 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Max Morden is getting old. He has just lost his wife, Anna, and his efforts to deal with that loss cause him to revisit a past that predates her. I expect he is seeking the beginning, the source of who he is, the shaping of himself, a self that he isn’t sure he is at all pleased with.

I could relate to Max’s frantic grappling with death. I have reached that age when losing people has become far too frequent an occurrence. Beyond that, is the specter of his own death which hovers at his elbow, the
Stephen M
Prose style: 2
Plot : 2
Depth of characters: 2
Overall sense of aesthetic: 1
Originality: 3
Entertaining: 1
Emotional Reaction: 1
Intellectual Stimulation: 3
Social Relevance: 2
Writerly Inspiration: 1

Average = 1.8

I think this suffers from one basic writerly technique; describe what something is, not what something is like. If there were characters, a story or some kind of dramatic tension in this pile of high brow prattle, it was buried underneath the weight of endless adjectives and billowy senten
Aug 09, 2016 Χρήστος rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Είναι πολύ ενδιαφέρουσα η απόκλιση στις βαθμολογίες των βιβλιόφιλων για το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο. Προσωπικά, βρήκα την πλούσια πρόζα του Μπανβιλ σαγηνευτική, εμπνευσμένη, συχνά συγκινητική, ταιριαστή με την πλοκή και το δράμα του ήρωα. Η οξυδερκής και διεισδυτική ματιά του συγγραφέα στα πρόσωπα και στις καταστάσεις, εντυπωσιακη. Πρόκειται για ένα βιβλίο 230 σελίδων, οπότε ο αργος ρυθμός και η έλλειψη δράσης δεν αποτελούν πρόβλημα, ίσα ίσα βρήκα τον ρυθμό άκρως επιτυχημένο.

Σημαντικά θέματα, συναίσθ
May 09, 2011 Szplug rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Sea is one of those rare books that I not only gave up on, but actually sold to a second-hand shop afterwards. Booker Prize winner, highly lauded in rec.arts.books and a handful of internet forums that I frequented in those days, and a pastel pastiche of hyper-pictorial pablum. Frankly, I don't remember a whole lot of this very brief excursion into Banvillea other than the endless, and I do mean endless descriptions and depictions of the sky—the shape and color of the clouds, whether it was ...more
Discovering John Banville last year was an amazing occurrence. The Blue Guitar was one of my favourite reads of 2015 and has become one of my favourite novels. Period.

So I was both excited and apprehensive to read the Sea, Banville’s Man Booker prize winner, because I feared being disappointed.

I’m relieved to say that I LOVE JOHN BANVILLE! So much. Unequivocally.

His writing beguiles me. His writing consumes me. His descriptions and metaphors are works of art. His way with words, the turn of
Jan 19, 2011 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ireland
I myself have lived near the edge of the sea for almost half a century, but I will never again regard the sea the same way after reading John Banville's The Sea. This is one of those rare books where you will keep coming back to its first line: "They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide."

The place is Ballyless, a hardscrabble coastal town with some cheap "chalets" in which dwell the lower classes, including the family of Max Gorner, the book's narrator. Nearby is a seaside cottage
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Fiction parodies: John Banville - A short parody 1 26 Apr 07, 2014 03:30PM  
The Sea - language 25 169 Jan 20, 2014 07:29PM  
  • Saville
  • Something to Answer For
  • The Old Devils
  • Holiday
  • Adjunct: An Undigest
  • The Elected Member
  • Rites of Passage (To the Ends of the Earth, #1)
  • How Late it Was, How Late
  • The Story of Lucy Gault
  • In the Forest
  • In a Free State
  • G.
  • The Lambs of London
  • The Conservationist
  • Thursbitch
  • Dining on Stones
  • That They May Face The Rising Sun
  • Offshore
Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a reminiscence of growing up ...more
More about John Banville...

Share This Book

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” 2134 likes
“We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then it is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations.” 47 likes
More quotes…