” I have ever had the conviction, resistant to all rational consideration, that at some unspecified future moment the continuous rehearsal which is my life, with its so many misreadings, its slips and fluffs, will be done with and that the real drama for which I have ever and with such earnestness been preparing will at last begin. ” 
Max Morden, a widower, returns to the seaside town where he spent his summer holiday as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife, Anna. The middle aged Irishman, genteelly out-moded, estranged from the world, which doesn’t seem to retain a deep hold in him, is living in the past. Since Anna was diagnosed with cancer, he has mindfully escaped from the intolerable present. Future has become frightfully dreadful: a promise of mortality.
On all sides there were portents of mortality. I was plagued by coincidences; long-forgotten things were suddenly remembered; objects turned up that for years had been lost. 
Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it. 
The visit at Cedars is also a return to the place where he, as a seven-year-old boy, met the Graces, a well-heeled vacationing family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of love and death for the first time. It was also through their acquaintance that he experienced sexual fantasy. The unhappiness of his parents’ marriage had drawn him to the company of the Graces.
That is why the past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the cold future. and yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet. 
That Old Max calls the Graces “old gods” is a bit stretching it. In fact, it was beyond perplexing that Banville begins the book with “They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide,” without even introducing who the gods were. Nor do I fully appreciate how his personal loss-of-innocence tragedy some 50 years ago could alleviate the pain of his wife’s loss. The Sea is a book of portentous rhetoric, a story of a ravaged self in search of a reason to go on in life cloaked in beautifully and meditatively constructed sentences. Oddly, Banville, through Max Morden, tends to create an impression of the Graces family that is more intense than that of dying Anna, his own wife. The prose delineating the summer almost half a century ago seems to carry a heavier weight in the narrative. It suspends readers in a lyrical trance—keeps one waiting, until the last drop of wine lingers and empties out of the rim of a glass. The Sea is a novel about coming-of-age and coming of old age, through the capricious power of memory and grief.
195 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]