Samuel Beckett, a writer to whom John Banville is occasionally compared, demonstrated that the power of meaning lies as much in hesitation, repetition and silence as it does in words themselves; there are certainly some Beckettian flourishes in The Sea. One paragraph concludes: ‘The café. In the café. In the café we.’ Another, ‘All gone. All lost. It is no matter. Tired. Tired and drunk. No matter.’ But for the most part the narration proceeds without drawing undue attention to itself, from the intriguing beginning (‘They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide’) to the chilling climax when the awful implications of that first sentence are revealed. The storyteller’s voice is that of Max Morden, a typical Banville protagonist: articulate if occasionally hesitant, and haunted.
Young Max is holidaying with his mother in the seaside village of Ballyless (his father works in nearby Ballymore and arrives at their rented chalet each evening in ‘a wordless fury, bearing the frustrations of the day like so much luggage’). The gods that alight in his world are the