Table of Contents Title Page Dedication Praise I II About the Author ALSO BY JOHN BANVILLE Copyright Page
To Colm, Douglas, Ellen, Alice
Acclaim for John Banville’s
“A piece of violent poetry—an autumnal, elegiac novel. . . . Treacherously smart andhaunting, its story of a ravaged self in search of a reason to go on is cloaked in wave afterwave of magnificent but hardly consoling prose.” —The Boston Globe
“An utterly contemporary novel that nonetheless could only have come from a mind steeped inthe history of the novel and deeply reflective about what makes fiction still worthwhile. . .. John Banville deserves his Booker Prize.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“[Banville] is prodigiously gifted. He cannot write an unpolished phrase, so we read himslowly, relishing the stream of pleasures he affords. Everything in Banville’s books isalive. . . . He is a writer’s writer [who] can conjure with the poetry of people andplaces.” —The Independent (London)
“Mesmerizing. . . . Banville masterfully melds the past with the present, allowing Max tofind strength in what remains behind.” —The Seattle Times
“Banville has a reputation as a brilliant stylist—people like to use the word ‘Nabokovian’in reference to his precisely worded books. His fourteenth novel, , has so manyThe Sea
beautifully constructed sentences that every few pages something cries out to be underlined.”— The Christian Science Monitor
“Banville’s latest novel is simultaneously about growing up and growing old, [about] ritesof passage: coming-of-age and coming of old age; awakening and dying. . . . Banville has atalent for sensuous phrasing, and pungent observation of human frailty.” —The Sunday Times(London)
“A brilliant, sensuous, discombobulating novel.” —The Spectator
“A richly intriguing book. . . . This novel is impeccably written, in a prose that is like anintricate and glorious spider’s web, imbued with vivid detail [and] laced with black humor.”—The Nation
“Banville writes novels of complex patterning, with grace, precision and timing, and there arewonderfully digressive meditations.” — The Guardian (London)
“Banville is a master at capturing the most fleeting memory or excruciating twinge of self-awareness with riveting accuracy.” —People
“This is a novel in which all Banville’s remarkable gifts come together to produce a realwork of art, disquieting, disturbing, beautiful, intelligent, and in the end, surprisingly,offering consolation.” —The Scotsman (Edinburgh)
“Banville has written an utterly absorbing novel about the strange workings of grief, and thegratuitous dramas of memory.” — London Review of Books
They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky thewaters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small wavescreeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping thevery bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far endof the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted arelaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved,it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue andmalignantly agleam. They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds. The waves weredepositing a fringe of soiled yellow foam along the waterline. No sail marred the highhorizon. I would not swim, no, not ever again.
Someone has just walked over my grave. Someone.
The name of the house is the Cedars, as of old. A bristling clump of those trees, monkey-brownwith a tarry reek, their trunks nightmarishly tangled, still grows at the left side, facingacross an untidy lawn to the big curved window of what used to be the living room but whichMiss Vavasour prefers to call, in landladyese, the lounge. The front door is at the oppositeside, opening on to a square of oil-stained gravel behind the iron gate that is still paintedgreen, though rust has reduced its struts to a tremulous filigree. I am amazed at how littlehas changed in the more than fifty years that have gone by since I was last here. Amazed, anddisappointed, I would go so far as to say appalled, for reasons that are obscure to me, sincewhy should I desire change, I who have come back to live amidst the rubble of the past? Iwonder why the house was built like that, sideways-on, turning a pebble-dashed windowlesswhite endwall to the road; perhaps in former times, before the railway, the road ran in adifferent orientation altogether, passing directly in front of the front door, anything ispossible. Miss V. is vague on dates but thinks a cottage was first put up here early in thelast century, I mean the century before last, I am losing track of the millennia, and then wasadded on to haphazardly over the years. That would account for the jumbled look of the place,with small rooms giving on to bigger ones, and windows facing blank walls, and low ceilingsthroughout. The pitchpine floors sound a nautical note, as does my spindle-backed swivelchair. I imagine an old seafarer dozing by the fire, landlubbered at last, and the winter galerattling the window frames. Oh, to be him. To have been him.
When I was here all those years ago, in the time of the gods, the Cedars was a summer house,for rent by the fortnight or the month. During all of June each year a rich doctor and hislarge, raucous family infested it—we did not like the doctor’s loud-voiced children, theylaughed at us and threw stones from behind the unbreachable barrier of the gate—and afterthem a mysterious middle-aged couple came, who spoke to no one, and grimly walked theirsausage dog in silence at the same time every morning down Station Road to the strand. Augustwas the most interesting month at the Cedars, for us. The tenants then were different eachyear, people from England or the Continent, the odd pair of honeymooners whom we would try tospy on, and once even a fit-up troupe of itinerant theatre people who were putting on anafternoon show in the village’s galvanised-tin cinema. And then, that year, came the familyGrace.
The first thing I saw of them was their motor car, parked on the gravel inside the gate. Itwas a low-slung, scarred and battered black model with beige leather seats and a big spokedpolished wood steering wheel. Books with bleached and dog-eared covers were thrown carelesslyon the shelf under the sportily raked back window, and there was a touring map of France,much used. The front door of the house stood wide open, and I could hear voices inside,downstairs, and from upstairs the sound of bare feet running on floorboards and a girllaughing. I had paused by the gate, frankly eavesdropping, and now suddenly a man with a drinkin his hand came out of the house. He was short and top-heavy, all shoulders and chest andbig round head, with close-cut, crinkled, glittering-black hair with flecks of premature greyin it and a pointed black beard likewise flecked. He wore a loose green shirt unbuttoned andkhaki shorts and was barefoot. His skin was so deeply tanned by the sun it had a purplish
sheen. Even his feet, I noticed, were brown on the insteps; the majority of fathers in myexperience were fish-belly white below the collar-line. He set his tumbler—ice-blue gin andice cubes and a lemon slice—at a perilous angle on the roof of the car and opened thepassenger door and leaned inside to rummage for something under the dashboard. In the unseenupstairs of the house the girl laughed again and gave a wild, warbling cry of mock-panic, andagain there was the sound of scampering feet. They were playing chase, she and the voicelessother. The man straightened and took his glass of gin from the roof and slammed the car door.Whatever it was he had been searching for he had not found. As he turned back to the house hiseye caught mine and he winked. He did not do it in the way that adults usually did, at oncearch and ingratiating. No, this was a comradely, a conspiratorial wink, masonic, almost, as ifthis moment that we, two strangers, adult and boy, had shared, although outwardly withoutsignificance, without content, even, nevertheless had meaning. His eyes were an extraordinarypale transparent shade