"The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch (1978)
"We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value."
Iris Murdoch was a British novelist and philosopher. She was raised in Ireland and studied philosophy at Cambridge. She was awarded the Booker Prize for The Sea, the Sea during the year of its publication.
In the novel James Arrowby, retired actor and director, moves to a small village in the vicinity of London. Tired of previous amorous adventures and wanting to pursue a more contemplative mode of existence, he nevertheless seeks romance with an old flame. His misunderstandings with various women inform much of the plot, and throughout the novel his idealizations of these women and their circumstances contend with the larger social reality he inhabits.
The book starts out well even if it's on the slow side. I liked the meditative nature of the protagonist's personality and his way of recollecting younger episodes in his life. He's arrogant and egotistical, but this seems a given when one understands his career on the stage up to that point.
What I had trouble with was the turning point which comes about 1/4 of the way into the book. After this point the protagonist seems to exceed himself, and his behavior becomes erratic in the extreme. His behavior, in other words, seems very inconsistent, and the other characters' behavior exhibits this same inconsistency as the book progresses. You would think character A would never do action B because that is one of his defining traits, but no, character A goes right ahead and does action B because... reasons.
After a certain point this aspect of the book makes the plot seem arbitrary. The characters don't act in accordance with the way they're introduced, and as a result everything starts to seem very random. It's as if the author was just smashing this cast of characters into an established plot, regardless of whether their roles in this plot are in harmony with what they as people would actually do.
With this in mind no, I wouldn't recommend The Sea, the Sea. It's just too frustrating to bother with. Yes, it won the Booker Prize, and yes, a lot of people like it, but it either lacks a feel for its characters, or the author does a bad job of explaining why her characters do what they do - I really can't decide which it is.
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