The Sea, the Sea

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The Sea, the Sea

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dec 18, 2012, 9:07 am

I'm over halfway but I've bogged a bit - or rather - I am luffing, since we've got a maritime sub-theme going in this book. Charles Arrowby is a 'retired' actor/director - a hugely successful and rather famous one and has bought an awkward house that has, however, direct access to the sea, a real intimacy with it from almost every window. I haven't figured out the location, but I'm assuming it faces the channel or southwards, but isn't too far from London. In his first days there he feels the house is haunted, perhaps, or has a strange spirit to it. He sees a sea-monster. Distinguished, handsome, he is a man with a big ego, a vivid imagination, and breathtaking self-absorption, and yet he is not a monster ..... or is he? A posse of women who love him appear and disappear, but then he sees his childhood love, the one woman who rejected him, who has retired to this same seaside town with her husband, and the fun begins. He has never married and has constructed, in his memory, a seamless story as to why not - that rejection by his first only true love. Now she's within reach, he's going to nab her for himself if he can, regardless.

I was enthralled for the first 100 or so pages, but now I've slowed down, not sure why, I guess because, in this long development section (I'm at about 300 of 500) the painful scenes have outnumbered the funny ones and the mood is shifting. Oh, it's still plenty amusing but I see some bad bad occurrence as inevitable given the level of thoughtless meddling on Charles' part. I'm going to institute something like 25 pages a day to make sure I do finish before the Christmas fuss sets in.

dec 18, 2012, 10:24 am

Oh good. Thanks, Lucy, I'm glad you did this.

dec 22, 2012, 9:53 pm

The worst has happened, now we're in the home stretch and I am so relieved. What a mess Charles has made of things. Question is, what has he learned, if anything? How will he explain to himself what he has done?

Redigeret: dec 23, 2012, 9:01 pm

I have finished and here is my review:

129. ✔ #5 ****1/2 f

Quite pleased with myself to have, at last, finished my first Iris Murdoch. It may take me awhile to sort out my thoughts, so this review is likely to be a work-in-progress. My first response, upon shutting the book, is that Murdoch was writing about what we charmlessly call a mid-life crisis. Charles Arrowby is having his is a bit late as he has been busy and successful, first as an actor, later as a director. Now, feeling bored and unchallenged ,he has withdrawn from the theatre, and has moved to an ugly little house that has a marvelous intimacy with the sea where he plans to 'retire". But really, he has too much energy and life in him for a 'real' retirement and all hell breaks loose, literally, when he spies his very first love, living in retirement with her husband also in the same village. Ripe for trouble Arrowby conjures up a fantasy of first and always love - and things get very very messy before the madness passes. Nowadays the equivalent, I suppose would be hunting around on the internet for old flames, contacting them with whatever consequences. The deeper theme of the book is illusion, and how we create our own realities through imagining the past and present and future to suit ourselves, appropriate enough for an actor and director. Iris was a philosophy major and these are, no doubt, the sorts of questions that fascinated and obsessed her. There are also hints of ... mystery... Charles 'sees' a sea serpent, a demon, in effect 'sensing' his own future as soon as he arrives at the house; he has a cousin, James, of whom he has always been envious. James has made a close study of Tibetan Buddhism, and there is a suggestion that he has achieved a high level in some of the tantalizing practices as described in books such as Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Murdoch leaves the door open that it is possible to believe something so strongly that it becomes real, but that, our belief in 'rationality' as the most important tool for assessing reality means that view is generally rejected when trying to explain the inexplicable occurrences. A secondary theme is an exploration of what love is, and the two themes are slightly overlapping, I think. Thirdly there is an examination of how one cannot do anything without consequences. Arrowby, while being a pompous ass, is also an intensely engaged person; he has a restless mind and even when he comes up with self-serving or paranoid ideas he isn't satisfied (as some would be) and keeps searching, doubting. I came away somewhat awed by Murdoch's intellect - from time to time I think this aspect does make the book drag, but in the end, it is her strength. There is also a great deal of subtle humor - most often in descriptions and small details. ****1/2

dec 23, 2012, 4:53 pm

I plan to read The Bell in January.

Redigeret: dec 23, 2012, 5:29 pm

I am going to just post some of the quotes that I marked as I read, can't put page numbers as all editions are different. You can see, then, how she intertwines her imagery with her themes, right from the very beginning.

"Who knows indeed how interesting I shall find my past life when I begin to tell it? Perhaps I shall bring the story gradually up to date and as it were float my present upon my past?"

"Marriage is a sort of brainwashing which reaks the mind into the acceptance of so many horrors. How untidy and ugly and charmless marriedpeople often let themselves become without even noticing it."

"There are those who, even if valued, remain sinister witnesses from the past. James is for me such a witness."

"Stars behind stars and stars behind stars behind stars until there was nothing between them, nothing byond them, but dusty dim gold of stars and no space and no light but stars. The moon was gone. The water lapped higher, nearer, touching the rock so lightly it was audible only as a kind of vibration. The sea had fallen dar, in submission to the stars.... All was movement, all was change, and somehow this was visible and yet unimaginable. And I was no longer I but something pinned down as an atom, an atom of an atom, a necessary captive spectator, a tiny mirror into which it was all indifferenty beamed, as it motionlessly seethed and boiled, gold behind god behind gold."

"I had always run to women as to a refuge. What indeed are women but refuges? And sometimes it had seemed that to be held close in a woman's arms was the only and perfect defence against any horror.... and yet... after awhile.... one leaves a refuge."

"Thus people can be light sources, without ever knowing, for years in the lives of others, while their own lives take different and hidden courses. Equally one can be..... a monster, a cancer, n the mind of someone whom one has half forgotten or never even met."

"Perhaps it is a sign of age that I am busy all day without really doing anything."

Some of these quotes are just things I found amusing, some beautiful, some insightful.

dec 23, 2012, 7:31 pm

Ouch! That last one really hurts.

dec 23, 2012, 9:01 pm

I know. Of course, I was pretty good at letting days slip through my hands when I was young too.... perhaps I notice it more now?

dec 24, 2012, 12:27 am

Congrats for finishing.

jan 9, 2013, 8:09 am

Simon, a member of the Virago Group, just read this book and really disliked it. He blogged about it here.

I read it 5 years ago (oh my, thank you LT for keeping track), and liked it well enough but I wouldn't say it's my favorite.

jan 9, 2013, 11:59 am

Thanks for that Laura - do you think I should alert him about the Murdoch group over here? I decided, at the point where he kidnapped his childhood love, that the book wasn't really meant to be taken quite literally..... but also that..... these are theatre people, primarily..... but the kidnapping was truly bizarre -- in particular that Charles' friends tolerated it, it does stretch belief.

jan 9, 2013, 1:25 pm

Sure, why not encourage Simon? Personally I think he should give Iris another chance. :)

aug 21, 2015, 10:13 pm

I'm about 4/5 through this novel, just starting "History: six", and I'm loving it. I resonate completely with Lucy's comment in >4 sibylline: above:
"I came away somewhat awed by Murdoch's intellect - from time to time I think this aspect does make the book drag, but in the end, it is her strength."

More to come; this is mostly me reviving this dormant thread.

aug 22, 2015, 8:27 am

I read The Sea, the Sea a bit earlier this year. I admired it and sort of enjoyed it. I can't leave "enjoy" unqualified as it is a difficult work with complicated ideas underneath a crazy plot line. Still, I'm glad to have read it, and couldn't stop till I finished as I wanted to see what on earth would happen to Charles.

>10 lauralkeet: Oh, the perils of LT. I just spent about 30 minutes browsing Simon's blog. Delightful! Thank you for pointing me to it.

aug 22, 2015, 9:27 am

It IS a nutty plot, one of the nuttier ones I've encountered, although The Message to the Planet is right up there. It's an IM specialty. I've come to think two things about the plots, one that they have a push-the-limit aspect, as in playing out something one might fantasize (such as kidnapping your old girl) but the exagerration is possibly also meant to make one think a little about one's own inner fantasy life and all the impulses that are NOT played out. Iris has her characters playing out these scenarios with all their consequences (which are sometimes remarkably few).

sep 9, 2015, 12:33 am

^ I love that perspective, Lucy. Thanks for posting.

sep 9, 2015, 8:32 am

Thank you Ellen!

sep 9, 2015, 9:08 am

>15 sibylline: Lucy, absolutely. It's almost as though he's imagining the whole thing. It was creepy--or maybe it's just Charles that's creepy. The most interesting part is how his perspective shifts and he realizes that everything he thought was false. And his brother...hmm. A little mysticism thrown in for good measure.

She was a startling talent.

sep 13, 2015, 1:38 am

^ "She was a startling talent."

What a great description.