The Sea, The Sea

Late this afternoon I finished reading

of which this is the book jacket of my 1978 first edition. The front illustration is a well-known detail from Hokusai’s ‘The hollow of the deep-sea wave off Kanazawa; the back cover is from a wall painting in the Golden Hall of the Höryū-ji, Nara, Japan.

Sir Alfred Ayer, chairman of the judges commended her 19th novel which won the Booker Prize as “it impressed the judges as a more ambitious book than its rivals, and excelled in the force of its imagery, its delineation of character, and its descriptive power”. I agree with this description of the work as quoted in Philip Howard’s review from The Times of 23rd November 1978 that I slipped into the wing of the jacket when I bought the book. The blurb states that “reflections upon love and hate and fear contribute to the intense atmosphere of (what it claims to be) this comic tragedy.

Certainly a tragedy, its comic nature escapes me. As usual I will not give details of the story save to say that the writing is in the form of a diary from the main protagonist seeking to escape from the world, his fame, and much of his past, while at the same time recapturing the lost innocence of an early love, while constantly wondering was it the first. He constantly puts his own construction on his relationships while destroying them with lack of commitment and anxiety. Murdoch explores this complex personality with considerable insight.

Love, hate, and fear, all contribute to the speculations and actions of the characters whose mindsets are determined by their own versions of events and others activities which they interpret as facts. Faith, religion, sexuality, and its orientation are all matters for conjecture.

The variations in the mood of the Sea, itself among the cast of characters, are reflected in the narrative, with its certainly intense atmosphere in which the weather plays its part. The story moves along with prose both flowing like the waves and startling like their crashing on the rocks. Dialogue is managed well.

The details of the author’s descriptions of the natural world and the environment are most impressive. Precise details of clothing contribute to the pictures of personalities.