Banville’s Booker-winner is a novel which, like the tide, reveals itself by degrees. At once a recollection and a meditation, it’s a journal-styled examination of life after the loss of a partner.
Not a lot goes on in the novel in a narrative sense, but a lot is revealed about its focal character. Following his wife’s death, Max Morden revisits the location of childhood holidays – a seaside town not out of place in a Morrissey Every Day Is Like Sunday kind of world. It’s grey and bleak. Banville’s writing breathes sallow decay, mist in the hair and half a flask under the belt. Morden tries to reconnect with his youth – with varying levels of success – to try and unspool the grief life has laid upon him.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the author holds some key facts back until late in the piece. The revelations – which are hinted at throughout – are pleasing when they appear, further colouring the protagonist’s descent into the world of the crochetty old man, befuddled by grief. When anger towards his dead wife finally erupts, it’s as shocking a sentence as any that precede it.