After finishing Possession I thought I’d go for another long, Booker Prize winning novel, this time Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea. This is a fairly philosophical novel, exploring the strange ideas and obsessions of its protagonist, Charles Arrowby, a well known figure from the theatrical world, who decides to retire to the isolation of a house by the sea where he sets about writing his memoirs.

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

Charles has not been in his new home long when he happens to stumble across his childhood love, Mary Hartley Fitch, who is now a very unremarkable old lady, living in the nearby village with her retired husband. Charles soon becomes obsessed with winning back his old love and continuing the romance that they started all those years ago.

The interesting aspect in all this for the reader is that in this situation, as in various others, Charles is so totally self-deluded. Throughout the narrative, we read of Charles’ meandering thoughts and opinions, which are often partly discerning, yet also often slightly off-the-mark. They are sometimes pathetic but often quite humourous too.

I ate and drank slowly as one should (cook fast, eat slowly) and without distractions such as (thank heavens) conversation or reading. Indeed eating is so pleasant one should even try to suppress thought. Of course reading and thinking are important but, my God, food is important too. How fortunate we are to be food-consuming animals. Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger.

As various old friends and lovers appear on the scene, things become more and more farcical, yet Charles will not see sense. In a way it would be easy to read Charles as being mad, which in a sense he is, but most of all he is just so totally caught up in his own selfish, petty, jealous notions that he is unable to see things for how they are.

This is an intriguing novel, very cleverly written, which puts the reader in a strange position, as everything is shown through the eyes of one who is revealed to be less then reliable. A really interesting work, well worth a read.

Then I felt too that I might take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends, only of course loose ends can never be properly tied, one is always producing new ones. Time, like the sea, unties all knots. Judgements on people are never final, they emerge from summings up which at once suggest the need of a reconsideration. Human arrangements are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to console us.

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