Sunday, April 8, 2007

On John Banville's 'The Sea'

"On occasion in the past, in moments of inexplicable transport, in my study, perhaps, at my desk, immersed in words, paltry as they may be, for even the second-rater is sometimes inspired, I had felt myself break through the membrane of mere consciousness into another state, one which had no name, where ordinary laws did not operate, where time moved differently, if moved at all, where I was neither alive nor the other thing and yet more vividly present than ever I could be in what we call, because we must, the real world. And even years before that again, standing for instance with Mrs.Grace in that sunlit living room, or sitting with Chloe in the dark of the picture-house, I was there and not there, myself and revenant, immured in the moment and yet hovering somehow on the point of departure.

Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it." (p.97-98)

Words inspire words and it is only on occasions like this that words induce silence. Or make you dumb, you might say.

After I finished reading this book, I couldn't find myself for awhile.. I was searching for myself as if I was just another of those worldly possessions I possessed and it took me a full few minutes to get back to this world. I was affected. Deeply affected.

There's something painfully poetic about that writing that is redolent of the undeniable inevitabilities of life..love,solitude,melancholy,loss.. The profundity of the thoughts in those pages that connote the realities we so work in vain to escape from.. The sentience of those words.. It's unsettlingly artistic.

"I was just standing. I do not know what I was thinking. I do not remember thinking anything. There are times like that, not frequent enough, when the mind just empties... A splash, a little white water, whiter than that all around, then nothing, the indifferent world closing." (p.244)

I was lost.Discombobulated.

While reading,I would suddenly close the book,place it down on the table,get up and pace around my room,unable to contain what I had just read.. I would mouth a few words to myself, and then just go calm, bathing in the depths of Max Borden's seas.. Sometimes the hiatus would last a few minutes,sometimes even more.. There was an occasion where I couldn't touch the book again for so long I couldn't know how long it was. I went for a walk outside in the evening,came back and sat on my bed for god-knows-how-long and then simply took up the book and started reading again.

The self-professed 'second-rate' writer Max Borden revisits a little seaside village where memories from his childhood are buried.His wife has just passed away and he turns to his "Memory's prodigious memory" (p.161) for succour.He spends his time reminiscing on the days gone by,afflicted with nostalgia for a lost past and gambolling across memories in his memory just as carelessly beautifully as a child prances around with his object of desire.The narrative is disconcerting,while he jumps wilfully from one mnemonic to another as he forges his painful present with a traumatically innoxious past,trying to come to terms with the indifference of life.

It is the kind of book that makes you feel gratuitous for the existence of language and human expression. The unfathomable depths of wisdom and plain truths of life contained in those pages are too simple for comfort. Those pages exude the brilliance of a man at home with his language and the kind of perspicacity of thought that probably only age can give.
Not since Rushdie has a writer's language affected me so.
I'm going to read this again. And again.

"They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes...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 and malignantly gleam.They looked unnaturally white, that day, those birds... No sail marred the high horizon. I would not swim, no, not ever again.

Someone has just walked over my grave. Someone."

And 260 odd pages of poetic prose later,I was as affected as a I ever could be.I won't stop at just calling this a great book.It is a work of art,as sensuous and poignant as art can ever get.It is a pregnant treatise on the recondite truths that govern a man's life..the indelible etches on the human psyche that are memories.. the impending pain of loss.. and man's relentlessly unfruitful pursuit of the union of the tenses. It reminds us of the poignant innocence that is childhood..of a lost time when we all grew up,unaffected by the world's afflictions, building worlds of our own which would crash in an instant only to be rebuilt again in the next.

2 comments:

the teach said...

Thanks so much for the comment on my blog. I agree with what you say about "The Sea." I couldn't help noticing in the April 7 post you said you were in pain...Are you feeling better now?

Anonymous said...

Seeing the excerpts you have put in, kindles in me the desire to read more of you. It is very rare in today's automated life to touch someone's heart and make it aware of the life within.
Suddenly, the need to shirk from the lies and to break away from the iron shackles bound by oneself upon thyself is overwhelming and uncontainable. This whimper of flame now and then tries to break through but is extinguished so very often and so firmly that it has buried itself deep inside and is just waiting for a kind, brave hand to take it. Waiting patiently and interminably for the union which it is being denied from times unknown, from the time of its very birth maybe.