by John Banville
THE SEA is not a likely story: there is this hypochondriacal, slightly sodden, aesthetically
fastidious art historian, supposedly engaged in a scholarly monograph on Bonnard, who totters off down a memory lane which is "rutted as always was".
Well, but his wife of thirty years has died, as she said, of an illness quite inappropriate to their style of living. So, forlorn and bewildered, Morden has a vivid dream, and, waking, feels drawn to revisit the scene of a youthful seaside holiday.
He is not drawn to revisit the chalet with its smelly little wooden outhouse where he and his lard-white father and resentful mother went for their holidays, but to the Cedars in Station Road.
The Grace family holidays at the Cedars; their motor car stands in the drive; Mr. Grace, Carlo, deeply suntanned, drinks ice blue gin with a slice of lemon; they have a picnic basket, folding canvas chairs, bathing dresses and a travelling rug. Mrs. Grace, Constance, Connie, wears sun glasses with white plastic rims, smokes cigarettes, and regards her husband with tolerant amusement. There are the twins, a boy and a girl, Morden's age, and a young, unhappy governess.
THE SEA is a book to be savoured, remembered, and reread: when the Grace's motor car sweeps by "Tall grasses in the ditch, blond like the woman's hair, shivered briefly and returned to their former dreaming stillness."
As Morden tells his story with a shrug and silent laughter (and sometimes with tears) he keeps company with composers, poets, Greek gods, artists and philosophers. But Mrs. Grace, the twins and the hapless governess prevail. And always The Waves. Max Morden has come amongst us, and will remain with us, probably, for ever and ever. Amen.