Sunday, October 14, 2018

Booker Book #40: The Sea [Again] by John Banville


Apparently, when white British males feel alone, they head for the sea. In this fortieth Booker Prize winner, The Sea, by John Banville, the protagonist Max is recently widowed, and returns to the seaside scene of his first childhood love. Looking at just those bare bones, this book has much in common with The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. However, despite their similar names, the books could hardly be more different. While Murdoch's novel is a frenetic romp, Banville's is all melancholy lyric and languor.

Banville’s book is also similar to Holiday by Stanley Middleton, in which a man struggling with his marriage seeks solace at a childhood sea resort; and even with Troubles, by J.G. Farrell, in which the Irish conflict impinges on another seaside resort and young romance.

At The Cedars, the house once rented by his childhood love's family, Max wrestles with his increasingly unreliable memory and retells, haltingly, two stories of loss: that of his wife Anna, and that of his first love Chloe.

The writing is beautiful and poetic. Banville makes up words like “coldening” unselfconsciously while waxing philosophical on the meanings of life and death, memory and imagination. And the plot twists are as breathtaking as an undertow.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Booker Book #39: The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst

The protagonist of The Line of Beauty, Nick Guest, is aptly named: he reminds us of Nick Carraway, the middle-class observer of Gatsby's high life; and he is a guest, at the home of a Member of Parliament. He is also a gay man in the 80s, anxiously pursuing sex for the first time in the years just before AIDS rears its ugly head.

Nick has been invited to the conservative MP's home ostensibly as a friend of their son's, but his secret mission is to keep an eye on their mentally unbalanced daughter. Our protagonist pursues beauty and romance, while the straight and respected around him have affairs and hide mental illness. The hypocrisy is glaring, as well as a setup for heartbreak: the lower class but well-educated loyal dependent comes to think he is part of the family; sadly, blood and money turn out to be much thicker than water. The novel explores gay love and lust, Thatcherism, and social prejudice in England.

Hollinghurst's writing is beautiful, including the graphic sex scenes. I was reminded of the understated sophistication of Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children.