This is a beautifully crafted and elegantly written novel, a complex and intelligent exploration of ego, aging and self-fabrication. Written from the perspective of a retired theatrical luminary, it charts his fantastical attempts to reconnect with his “childhood sweetheart” (not a term Murdoch ever uses), who happens to have retired to the same coastal village as he has.
The main stylistic thrust of the book is the notion of rationality. The narrator, who becomes increasingly obsessed with the potentiality for a resumption of an unconsummated teenage affair, rewrites forty plus years of his life… Alters his past, lies to himself about his other relationships, reveals himself to be cowardly, manipulative, mean and uncaring… Yet all the while doing this by describing his actions as if they were rational. It is a book where a reader is constantly asked to view clearly irrational behaviour as if it can be justified, as if it can be explained, and as if it is not intrinsically wrong.
It is a book that touches on many big themes – love, loss, memory, obsession, nature, the supernatural, marriage, lust, friendship, grief, terminal illness… It is a very well put together book, an early Booker Prize winner and showing the distinctive writerliness and structural experimentalism associated with that distinction.
Murdoch expertly catches the voice and the mindset of a man in his sixties used to being in control of his life, and she repeatedly evokes the majesty, power and beauty of the eponymous sea repeatedly throughout. It is in places unsettling, in places very moving and, at the opening, also very funny. I’d give it a read.