Grief and its expression is the principal theme of The Sea. Banville artistically documents the tide of grief—how it thunders and pounds one moment, or is quieter the next. Like a vessel sailing on the seas of memory and grief, Banville expresses himself and manages to convey the "gossamer" of his suffering spirit. The ship metaphor is strong at times, seeing himself and his daughter as little "vessels of sadness" sailing into that great autumnal dark. There are times when his suffering spirit is captured in writing about his wife Anna. In this way, he demonstrates how we carry the dead with us until, we too, die and are borne along by an "other" just as the sea of memory carries us toward infinity. What Banville captures is the essence of grief, how it moves, how it penetrates and infiltrates the day and all of its banality. Often his detail and description is a movable feast of his memory. The reader partakes of this feast, and, like him, we are often violently interrupted by the waves and buffets of suffering. One particularly memorable episode arrives as Max watches a program on TV about the great elephant herds on the Serengetti Plain of Africa. Suddenly, Max is overcome by rage toward his wife, rage at the situation, and rage that he must now confront himself and his own suffering. Overcome with explosive emotion, he turns in frustration to Anna and describes her, (unjustly but understandable in its senselessness) in unkind terms of the female anatomy. Just as sudden as the pangs of rage and grief appear, they disappear beneath the surface and he comes to the realization that his place of hiding by the sea, the very room he inhabits now, is the same room he occupied as a teenager when life was a beautifully new experience and wonder was just down the beach in the forms of Mrs. Grace, or her daughter, Chloe. The Sea is a journey back down the earliest roadways and alleys of the Max's memory. The process of describing and remembrance of things past helps him to heal, helps him to remain viable, and helps to to paint brush strokes for the reader. Since Max is an art historian, the historical account of this man's life becomes a tapestry of grief, suffering, redemption, and emotional import. Banville successfully captures the inconsistency and suddenness of grief, as anyone who has suffered might understand but not be able to verbalize.
Youth, growth, and innocence are other related themes in The Sea. Max sifts the sands of memory and returns to "the...
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