Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea, 1978 Booker Prize

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Now readers, I said I was going to review Stanley Middleton’s Holiday in my last blogpost. Unfortunately, I had to order the book from another library, so I went to the next one of my list, the 1978 Booker Prize Winner, The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch.

Murdoch’s writing has been praised by critics for being detailed.  Personally, I found her attention to detail too distracting. The story revolves around a celebrated theatre director, Charles Arrowby retiring to the coast and living in an old tower in order to enjoy his retirement and reflect on his life. Murdoch’s prose is narrated in the first person so it is Arrowby whose view we see throughout. This is where I have a problem with it. Murdoch seems to get bogged down in the details of Arrowby’s isolated existence and I found that I got distracted and bored by this.

Secondly, Arrowby is not a likable character. In fact, I would say he’s deluded, jealous and paranoid, particularly when it comes to his past relationships. One of the strands driving the plot is that Arrowby rediscovers the women who got away; Hartley, his first love. It quickly becomes clear that Arrowby saw the brief relationship as more passionate than Hartley did. Now I know that Murdoch did this deliberately, but I didn’t feel that Arrowby was an intriguing enough protagonist. Likewise, the story just plodded along with no sense of urgency.

Otherwise, I can generally say that The Sea, The Sea is plodding and unengaging as a novel. Luckily, Holiday has arrived so I can start reading that now!

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