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The Font, the Font – The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

A sea of words and a wave of space

Staring at the font size of my edition intimidates me. Sure, I’ve read the gigantic 2666 months ago, but somehow, I was more frightened at the prospect of reading this Booker winner. And reading the mini-bio of the author at one of the front pages further scares me: Murdoch is a philosopher. Most probably, philosophical meanderings are bound to dominate the book, no?

Not really. To start, the writing is quite understandable. Yes, it is physically and metaphorically dense, but it manages to be fluid. Maybe because of the first person point of view. More so, we are actually reading the diary of a retired theater director, Charles Arrowby, who decides to spend his retirement years by the sea. He buys a funny house with an accessible view of the sometimes screaming, sometimes serene sea. He moves, finally, to escape the women of his theatrical life.

But with the conspiratorial forces of fate, he meets not only one but three women with whom he had a relationship with. To top it all, he even finds, after four decades, the one woman he really, truly loved. His first love, and the reason he never married and stayed out of the mysterious fringes of marriage.

I woke up next morning to an instant sense of a changed world. The awful feeling was less, and there was a new extremely anxious excitement and a sheer plucking physical longing to be in her presence, the fierce indubitable magnetism of love. There was also a weird hovering joy, as if I had been changed in the night into a beneficent being powerful for good. I could produce, I could bestow, good. I was the king seeking the beggar maid. I had power to transform, to raise up, to heal, to bring undreamt-of happiness and joy. My God, I had come here, to this very place, and against all the chances I had found her at last! I had come here because of Clement, and I had found Hartley. But: is she a widow?

Halfway through this, the pace will pick up at an amazing speed. We all have troubles starting new novels. We try a best to get a good grip on it so that we can drive our reading with delight. In this case, it was a slow start. We read about Charles describing the sea and giving some details of his childhood. He also takes about his family, which is just a small crew composed of his parents, his uncle and aunt, and his lone cousin James.

He also talks about the food that he eats, the problems that he has with his house and surroundings, the quiet village, the hostile and sarcastic people, the theater and the people with whom he had connections with. All these may drag the reader, but as soon as people from Charles’s past enter the scene, one will realize that it’s worth the effort.

Besides, it’s not dragging in the sense that the writing is unwieldy. The descriptions are rich and colorful. The sea is such a beautiful backdrop for a novel and a magnificent metaphor for life. I remember John Banville’s The Sea. That one is very good, and this one is proving to be just as good, and it may even end up better.

Date Started: March 21, 2012. 09:00 PM. Book #16 of 2012.


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