every Starbucks should have a polar bear (scoradh) wrote,
every Starbucks should have a polar bear

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The Sea, the Sea, Iris Murdoch

I find it rather lolarious that a book called ‘The Sea’ also won the Booker Prize. Clearly if I write a book about the Indian Ocean I’m a shoo-in, right?

Charles Arrowby is a retired English actor who goes to live by the sea. A good sixth of the book passes with him describing, in minutest detail, the sea and what he eats every day. He is writing his ‘memoirs’ and mentions his first love, Hartley, who ran away with Another. Lo and behold, Hartley turns up in the village! She has grown old and boring, but he loves her anyway and is determined to snatch her away from her ‘unhappy’ marriage. At one point he even kidnaps her to set her free. In the meantime he meets her adopted son Titus, who thinks Charles is his biological father – he isn’t – and a lot of people come to visit Charles, including his converted-Eastern-mystic cousin James, a woman called Lizzie who’s in love with Charles and living with Gilbert who’s also in love with Charles, a woman called Rosina whose marriage Charles broke up, and her husband Peregrine who tries to kill Charles. Oh, and Charles’ ex-chauffeur. Confused? It’s not actually that bad, it rumbles along at a clipping pace, but just writing all that out proves to me that there really is no plot. This is a book of characterisation and description.

The characterisation is – I don’t even have words for how good it is. Charles is an egocentric maniac, Hartley is boring, hysterical and ANNOYING, Lizzie is pathetic, Titus is an awful scrounger. I hated all of them and I long to know how Murdoch did it.

As for description, here’s some prime examples:

His face was bony, with a freckled pallor which brought out the rather sugary pinkness of his parted lips.

The sea had regained its bejewelled purplish look, inlaid with spotted lines of emerald. [...] There were a few clouds, big lazy chryselephantine clouds that loafed around over the water exuding light.

In the end, what dimmed my ardour for this book – which I raced through; I don’t usually get through 500 pagers in four days now that I am genuinely studying as well – was the magical realism. I think magical realism is just LAZY. To create a magical side world or parallel universe, you have to come up with rules for its inception, use, death and control. In essence you must create a whole new species of magical practitioners. Conveniently deciding that India or Tibet is ‘magical’ just because it’s far away is LAZY. LAZY, LAZY, LAZY. As usual, I didn’t approve of the postscript. No book ever benefits from one of these. It SHOULD have ended with the seals, although what they really had to do with anything I’m not entirely sure.

Mainly, though, I wanted to know what REALLY happened in Fritzie’s tent – given that for a long time I thought Charles was intentionally written as a gay man!

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov
I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
The School for Husbands, Moliere
On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks
The Famished Road, Ben Okri
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
Tags: book glomp 2010
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