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This is a challenging question.
Ecocritics and theorists ask questions such as these:
How is nature represented in this novel? The sea is a powerful presence in this novel, as indicated by the title of the work. It is both metaphorical, tides of emotion and memory, and physical in that it overwhelms and drowns. This possibly indicates that nature should be treated with respect and is uncontrollable. In fact, at one point this is stated “And indeed nothing had happened ... just another of the great world's shrugs of indifference."
What role does the physical setting play in the plot of this novel?
The narrative of the novel moves in a stately, tidal motion across the past as Max loses himself in memory. He also lost Chloe to the sea. It is where his love disappeared and where he is now disappearing in the sea of memory.
How do metaphors of the sea influence the way we treat it?
John Banville frequently attributes feelings and intention to inanimate objects. In the following quote he does just this with the sea "The waves clawed at the suave sand along the waterline, scrabbling to hold their ground but steadily failing."
Banville is also particularly astute and fastidious in his creation and description of things, In this novel things are nearly more human than his people: "The mud shone blue as a new bruise";
Coming to the sea is a test for Max. He recognises the danger of his past-obsession. Ecocriticism concerns itself with the dire social and physical consequences of global warming. Max learns the truth at the end of the novel and we feel the sea itself is the catalyst for these dire consequences.
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