Sunday, October 02, 2005

Some Further Thoughts on Banville's The Sea

Just to add a little coda.

Yes, again I feel that it it hard to do justice to such a complex novel with such a niggardly word limit. I wanted to write more about the characters, especially about Max the narrator whom I did not warm to at all. (Presumably we are meant to feel like this about him, Banville is much too skilled a writer to think otherwise, but then it begs the question - why?) I also must confess that although I felt that he wrote beautifully about his wife's illness (i was close to tears at times, particularly at the achingly sad scene in the kitchen after her diagnosis, and the description of her bleak photographs of the suffering of other patients in the hospital), the other thread of plot - the events of that fatefully childhood summer, never quite ring true.

Are most Malaysian readers going to enjoy this novel? I don't think so. I think many folks looking for a pacier, more accessible read will judge it to be slow and depressing. (I found it beautifully written and thought-provoking. But then I'm odd!)

But if you are a fiction writer or aspire to be one, then you should take a look under the bonnet and see how the engine works, and then see what you can take for yourself.

Most fiction writers are pretty clunky when it comes to handling time past and drawing on a character's memories: cue the heavy-handed flashback - a couple of pages about what happened five years ago with every little detail and line of dialogue realled intact and then back to the present in time for tea.

Our thought processes are much much messier than that! Just watch where your mind goes for any length of time and you have to agree. (Try to meditate and empty your mind and just see those little monkeys of thoughts scampering about!)

Many writers (most notably Joyce in Ulysses) adopted a 'stream-of-consciouness' style, which can place considerable demands on the reader. Banville's prose flows effortlessly from past to deeper past to present and back to pasts again without hiatus, excavating layers of memory and holding them up to the light. It's beautifully done, and I think so far no writer has done it better, although I hunger now to read that other great book about memory Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. (Was this an influence on Banville's prose?)


Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, reading your review in Starmag, I get the impression that the book is a slow meandering read.

Re your comment on flashbacks where every little detail and every line of dialogue can be recalled and then come back in time for tea, many writers do that, don't they. Eg, The Kitchen God's wife is 90% storytelling by a mother to her daughter where she retold every nugget in her past.

bibliobibuli said...

Lydia - a very rewarding meandering read though, for me ... I wanted to savour every page of it.

=] said...

I read your review through this morning without knowing that it was done by you, though I guessed that it was you. I'm gonna get this book once I finish my heavy week ahead..maybe I should wait till the semester ends..but textbooks can't cure good-books-withdrawal-symptoms; though some textbooks are interesting enough, they are not the same as a good read at all.