Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch

Read: August 2007

When Charles Arrowby retreats to the sea to live the life of a hermit in a dilapidated stone cottage he is in search of peace and tranquillity. He spends his days swimming in the swelling sea and practicing his own form of stripped down gourmet cooking. But when he encounters an old flame from his childhood the idyllic retirement he imagined is ambushed by obsession and he quickly finds his solitude interrupted by the London world he had tried to escape.

So begins a tale of almost fantastical depth. Like the sea at its epicentre this is a novel which often seems calm and content, almost frail, but which at any given moment is want to swell and crash down with devastating consequences, only to recede carrying with it all ones expectations. It is this transience of nature, this ephemeral air which makes The Sea, The Sea such a joy. It is everything you ever wanted a novel to be, and yet nothing all at the same time.

The characterisation is first rate: from the magical realist eastern mysticism of Charles’ cousin James through the joyful campness of his theatre friends to the dour and defeated strength of his childhood love there is a real sense of place, of permanence, of solidity. And with such a capricious main character as Charles Arrowby it is a pleasure to lose oneself in his mind and to live by the sea, with its daily transformations and impulsive unpredictability.

I want to say something dramatically understated which could emphasise how delightfully real this book is, to encourage everyone out there to buy it and read it and enjoy it. It is not a dense or difficult book, and there are surprising twists around each corner. Perhaps I could compare it to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, once you open these pages you really will never want to leave.

8.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Thomas said...

This is one of my favorite Murdoch novels.