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The Sea, the Sea

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  15,333 ratings  ·  1,130 reviews
When Charles Arrowby retires from his glittering career in the London theatre, he buys a remote house on the rocks by the sea. He hopes to escape from his tumultuous love affairs but unexpectedly bumps into his childhood sweetheart and sets his heart on destroying her marriage. His equilibrium is further disturbed when his friends all decide to come and keep him company ...more
Paperback, 502 pages
Published 1999 by Vintage (first published 1978)
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Doug Hi. I too am new to Murdoch so perhaps not quite the intended audience for your question. I read The Bell earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it.…moreHi. I too am new to Murdoch so perhaps not quite the intended audience for your question. I read The Bell earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have followed up with The Sea The Sea and, though I liked and appreciated it, I found it less appealing overall, for all that the characters are equally as inventively drawn if not more so. (less)
Mizannie Murdoch was diagnosed in 1996. The Sea, The Sea was published in 1978 and was a Booker prize winner; it was written at the height of her literary…moreMurdoch was diagnosed in 1996. The Sea, The Sea was published in 1978 and was a Booker prize winner; it was written at the height of her literary career. You might find this article helpful:

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Jim Fonseca
This book earned the author the Booker Prize in 1978. Its a powerful book. I had seen it forever at library sales and for years I thought I should read it. Finally, I did, and I wish I had read it earlier. Im giving it a rating of 5 and adding it to my favorites.


The main character is a recently retired actor/playwright/theater director. He was a so-so actor, a better playwright, but a masterful director. In the last endeavor he achieved his fame and made his money. The main character is an
Aug 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 Jungian Stars !

2015 Gold Award - Tie (First Favorite Read)

Over the weekend I was sitting with a friend, having a tea and we were reading. She said, "How is the Murdoch book?" I looked up and without pausing or thinking and said "Simply wondrous". She tilted her head in her adorable way and said "Whatsitabout?"

I took a moment, sighed and exclaimed, "Everything"

This book is a psycho-spiritual masterpiece of the highest caliber. I decided to sit down and come up with a laundry list of what it
Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even a middling novelist can tell quite a lot of truth. His humble medium is on the side of truth. Whereas the theatre, even at its most realistic, is connected with the level at which, and the methods by which, we tell our everyday lies. This is the sense in which ordinary theatre resembles life, and dramatists are disgraceful liars unless they are very good. On the other hand, in a purely formal sense the theatre is the nearest to poetry of all the arts. I used to think that if I could have ...more
Steven Godin
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ah the sea, that wonderful spectacle bringing joy to countless many, whether swimming, diving, surfing, fishing, boating, splashing about in waist high water or just simply strolling along the shoreline whist the tide tickles your feet. But for some they won't go anywhere near it, all thanks to a certain Steven Spielberg film. For Iris Murdoch's fictional character Charles Arrowby, getting munched on by a shark is not likely and the last thing on his mind, after all, this is the British coast we ...more
Adam Dalva
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary novel, at once page-turner and philosophic, comic and melodramatic, one of the best that I've read. Murdoch is remarkably skilled at inhabiting the minds of her protagonists, and Charles Arrowby, a late-middle-aged, bumbling, morally dubious, veteran of theater, is a wondrous creation. The first 100 pages of this novel shouldn't work, as Charles, in journal form, moves to Shruff's end and inhabits a lonely house by the sea, wanders around town, experiences visions that he blames ...more
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-novels
I struggled with this for a while, mainly because I was so irritated by Charles Arrowby, the main character and unreliable narrator. Arrowby is a retired actor, director and playwright who has moved to a remote cottage by the sea and is tentatively writing his memoirs. Whole successions of characters, many of them former lovers, arrive and depart and Charles encounters his first love Hartley who has also retired to the area with her husband.
Like many of Murdochs characters Arrowby is not very
Be careful what you wish for

Jealousy is born with love, but doesnt always die with love.

Do you yearn for your first love - to spend just a moment together?
What if your sighting was accidental, unexpected, and you were unprepared?
Do you really love them still - or is it your youthful self you love?
Is stalking a passive act, a safety-valve?
Or does it forge the innocent past into a twisted vision of the future?

Maybe cousin James is right:
Youve built a cage of needs and installed her in an empty
Bionic Jean
Sep 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Sea the Sea by Iris Murdoch, is her 20th novel, which won the Booker prize in 1978. The author famously was an academic; a professor of Philosophy at Oxford University, who also wrote novels with a philosophical focus.

The novel is in the form of a journal. The viewpoint character throughout is a famous actor and director, Charles Arrowby. The impression we gain immediately is that he is a solitary, rather arrogant and egotistical individual. In the novel he has decided to retire to "Shruff
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All our failures are ultimately failures in love.
Iris Murdoch

Oh boy. This is deep, dudes. Far out and deeply deep, dudettes.

Rather than trying my unworthy hand at a thorough analysis of a psychologically complex 500 page novel, I shall lay track for a few grooves.

Dig it.
Near the beginning, I thought it might be a romance. No way, man. More like a real Mystery of Mental and Emotional Health and Well-being.

What is love? How is the idea or thought of it, especially young love, affected by the
Here's the first thing I love about The Sea, The Sea: its title. Isn't it wonderful? Imagine how boring it would have looked on a shelf if it had just been called "The Sea." But with that profoundly simple decision to repeat itself, it suddenly drips horror and madness and obsession. It's just brilliant. Almost makes me wish Emily Bronte had called her book "The Moor, The Moor."

And then Murdoch plays this terrific game with the opening sentence:
The sea which lies before me as I write glows
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star-books
The Sea, the Sea is the 1978 winner of the Booker Prize for good reasons. It is a brilliantly perspicacious exploration of human weakness in all its gory fullness. All the feelings that torment the soul are thrust into consciousness and displayed so well that the reading experience is so bad at times. Very few books that serve up a detestable self-serving cad as the main protagonist have succeeded in becoming for me a five-star read. This is an exception.

Charles Arrowby, an eminent theatre
This is a five-hundred page diary of a madman. Vain, heartless, jealous, rude; all of these, and more, apply to Charles Arrowby, the central character of the novel. Charles is a retired actor who has left London and bought a house (Shruff End) hard by the sea, where he intends to write a memoir of his career, his life and loves. Low and behold he runs into his childhood sweetheart, Hartley, who lives nearby, and his little self-centered world runs completely off the tracks. He sets about trying ...more
Im fairly certain no one writes, or ever has written, exactly like Iris Murdoch. Reading her prose is like listening to Frank Sinatra sing--you might have heard the song before, but never like that. In the first 200 pages of this book, I could not decide where it was going. Charles seemed an egocentric misogynist, not worthy of the interest I was showing in him. The plot seemed desperately thin and a bit all over the place, but the writing was exquisite, the descriptions were musical, and there ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful novel about a playwright composing his memoirs, trying to escape to some remote outpost by the sea, only to have his former life find him again and again in hilarious, spectral, and sometimes tragic ways. An unreliable narrator so full of his own vanity, and yet so obviously frail and needy, that I was willing to follow him even when I felt sure he must be hallucinating. A remarkable narrative feat.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this both repelling and compulsive, and the more repulsed I became the less capable I seemed of putting it down. I was hooked just several pages in, enamored with the elegant, elegiac tone of Charles Arrowby's attempts at composing a memoir/diary after exiling himself to a remote seaside home to live in monastic isolation. Via Arrowby, Murdoch's prose takes on a sea-like quality, the ebb-and-flow of memories and musings churning together present and past to the point where the edges of ...more
Elie F
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Who is one's first love? Who indeed.

At some point of one's life, one might want to exit the theatrical world of power, jealousy, and love, and withdraw into nature to learn to be innocent and good. Charles Arrowby is such a person, and this novel is an account of his failed attempt: "the sea, the sea", a natural surrounding that should have brought peace, is turned into a mirror of Charles' own psychic turmoil. Like The Bell, this novel is also about the desire to reclaim the past, but before
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This great work shows how literary works, at their best, can serve a moral function, and how they can do so without explicit moralizing, as well as without taking sides in some ideological battle. It does so by illuminating the illusions and fantasies that are woven into the self-knowledge process. In particular, it reveals to us that, in the end, much of what passes for self-knowledge - and for knowledge of others, as well as of God - is in the final analysis a consoling illusion. Our faith, ...more
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

--The Sea, The Sea
Charles Arrowby, as he portrays himself in this "autobiography" is undoubtedly as tragic, as comic, as mercurial as any of the roles he played in his successful career as a Shakespearian actor. He has come to the English seaside to peacefully retire but instead faces a series of tumultuous derailments.

Charles is a spectacular character. He is self-centered, erratic, delusional, arrogant, disingenuous, impetuous, eloquent, exhausting, narcissistic, foolish, grandiose, tempestuous, obsessional,

The Sea, the sea by Irish Murdoch or What is wrong with the Booker.

Written after 28 of 502 pages.

Of course you are going to want to know why Im not reading another page of this book. Of course, you are going to want to know why, should I ever find myself near to Murdoch and I mean Iris, whose crimes against humanity already strike me as not so far away as you might think, from the other ones and should I have a loaded shooting device at hand, I will ask her, donning an insincere smile
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2010
Truth be told, I was scared of the book. Scared of its length, scared I might not like it enough to finish it (I'm very frustrated when I can't finish books - I always feel it's my fault).

Thank goodness Murdoch really knows how to write, I actually loved reading "The Bell" a couple of years ago and I promised myself I'd keep on reading Murdoch. But I never knew which one to continue with, and, yes, I was scared of their length :). And I chose this one because it was mentioned in a really nice
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, audio, brit-lit
This will be among my faves this year! At the start of the novel, the unlike-ability of the narcissistic narrator made me wonder why I was reading it. I generally prefer a protagonist that I like and can relate to. But, hanging in there, I began to enjoy the way the unreliable narrator propelled the action of this novel. And there is a lot of action.

I listened to the audible version read by Simon Vance. He was fantastic! He was a able to have each characters voice different and realistic
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
A fabulous investigation into ego and vanity and sexual stalking. Charles Arrowby, a theatre director, retires to a tower by the sea in order to be close to his childhood sweetheart. The novel is narrated by Arrowby himself, who has decided to write his memoirs. Murdoch has created a brilliant unreliable narrator in Arrowby and we, as readers, are forever straining to read between his lines. When he sets out to destroy the marriage of his childhood sweetheart the novel takes on the allure of a ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many of Iris Murdochs novels consist of the thoughts and experiences of a central male character whose unreliable narration we have to take at face value but The Sea, The Sea has probably the most concentrated of these narratives and the most self-delusional in the form of Charles Arrowby retired actor, playwright, and director.

The entirety of the book takes place in a small village on the coast where Charles has gone to be alone and ostensibly live a peaceful life writing his memoir, of course
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read
This 1978 Booker winner manages to feel both completely contrived and compulsively readable. With protagonist Charles Arrowby, a famous theatre director, playwright and actor who retires to live at the seaside, Iris Murdoch created a fascinating, self-centered, narcissistic character who is completely caught up in his own perceptions and way of thinking. Narrated from Arrowby's point of view in a memoir-like style, we experience his ruthless, funny, and self-righteous actions and justifications ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
First Impression:

As my GR friend Jean said this is a weird book.

Why is it weird?

1. It is not a typical fiction. It tries to bridge both fiction and biography together. The novel begins with the intention of the main character - writing a memoir. It continues in this stream and suddenly the memoir takes the turn of fictional events and the reader gets enclosed in it. And the end, when the fiction part seems to be ending the memoir part comes up again and acts as the concluding part. The writer
Lubinka Dimitrova
Definitely not my cup of tea. The ramblings of a completely self-absorbed, delusional and unbearably verbose person left me absolutely indifferent. I forced myself to finish it, because I'm a sucker for self-punishment, and also because I hoped for an unimaginable twist at the finish line that would make it all worth it, but I was left none the wiser, if you don't count the bizarre self-inflicted death (not suicide though) that came out of the blue. I suppose the author should be considered very ...more
Dec 10, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brits
Murdochs characters are never likable people, they are usually, childish, selfish, obsessive and awful and you can hardly like them at all. But that is what makes her novels so fun. She always knows how to tangle you up in their troubles, lies, betrayals, and tragedies, their ambivalence and doubt,and she gets me at every turn. Charles Arrowby, the main character in this book is no better than any of them. He is en egotist who is impossible to sympathize with because his troubles seem so banal. ...more
Nov 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Back in the 80s, both my wife and I read a number of Iris Murdoch novels. We always enjoyed them, but looking back, they're not exactly the kind of novels you remember much about. They were all similar. Usually they involved several friends (academics or artists or both) thrown together over something, some cheating, love, jealousy, funny dialogue, and usually a tragedy to cap things off. Books I recall liking the best: The Black Prince, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, and The Bell. The Bell (an ...more
From 2013 Murdoch obviously never intended to make her main protagonist likeable. Or anyone else in the novel, come to think of it. Of course, that's sort of beside the point, because for one thing, I don't think this is of concern to Murdoch in any of her novels, besides which I can think of lots of novels that sucked me right in even if those peopling them were unpleasant (including the only other Murdoch novel I'd read before this one, A Severed Head which I found hilarious), but I never ...more
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Dame Jean Iris Murdoch

Irish-born British writer, university lecturer and prolific and highly professional novelist, Iris Murdoch dealt with everyday ethical or moral issues, sometimes in the light of myths. As a writer, she was a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text. Murdoch produced 26 novels in 40 years, the last written while she was suffering from Alzheimer disease.


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