2007: 40. The Sea, The Sea

“The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the May sunshine.  With the tide turning, it leans quietly against the land, almost unflecked by ripples or by foam.”

The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch

This book reminds me of books by people like Philip Roth and John Updike, because it is the story of a self-absorbed white man and the havoc he wrecks on the men and women around him with his selfishness.  It is unusual for a woman to write this sort of book, and part of me wonders if Murdoch isn’t doing it on purpose - pointing out how unpleasant and self-centered these sorts of protagonists are.   The novel is narrated in the form of a journal written by Charles Arrowby, a former playwright and director, who retires alone to an isolated house on the sea.  There he broods on his past, until, unexpectedly, the women in his life begin to appear in town, including his first love, Hartley who inexplicably left him, altering his life forever.  


I found Charles to be an unbearable main character.  I understand that that was the point - Murdoch writes novels concerned with moralistic and ethical situations and how the characters react to them, but it was a long hard slog to finish this book with this unpleasant narrator.  My copy has a quote from Anne Tyler calling The Sea, The Sea, “Compelling, very funny ... a work of art,” and I would only agree with the last statement.  The book is well written, the characters actions are believable, and if Murdoch was satirizing the grand old men of modern fiction, then this book is ridiculously clever.  I understand why it won the Booker Prize (though I would want to read the other nominated books and see what else the options were).  But I hated Charles, I hated what he did to Hartley, and I couldn’t buy his redemption at the end.  I appreciated this book but I did not enjoy it. 


Recommended for:  People who like reading books about narcissistic old men and their love affairs; people who can stomach annoying characters in the service of good writing; Booker Prize completists


Date/Place Completed: 3/21/07, D.C.

Categories:  Fiction; Commuting Book; Booker Prize Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017