John Banville’s 2005 Man Booker Prize-winning masterpiece, The Sea, is a rich and deep dive into human nature, specifically on the humdrum of grief and loss. Its realistic and romantic portrayal makes up for a riveting read, albeit it was a quick one. Moreover, the interesting plot was complimented by the richness of its text. John Banville has the knack for making quotable lines and a romantic way of describing things.

If you haven’t read my review of John Banville’s The Sea yet, please click here.

From the book, I have rounded out some of the best and most catchy quotes. Here they are.

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“The past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking of the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“Happiness was different in childhood. It was so much then a matter simply of accumulation, of taking things – new experiences, new emotions – and applying them like so many polished tiles to what would someday be the marvellously finished pavilion of the self.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then that is we who are borne along for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“It was not a wave but a smooth rolling swell that seemed to come up from the deeps, as if something vast down there had stirred itself.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“There was a time when I quite liked what I saw in the looking-glass, but not anymore. Now I’m startled, and more than startled, by the visage that so abruptly appears there, never at all the one that I expect. I have been elbowed aside by a parody of myself, a sadly dishevelled figure in a Halloween mask made of sagging, pinkish-grey rubber that bears no more than a passing resemblance to the image of what I look like that I stubbornly retain in my head.” ~ John  Banville, The Sea

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“These days I must take the world in small and carefully measured doses. It is a sort of homeopathic cure I am undergoing, though I am not certain what this cure is meant to mend.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“There are times, they occur with increasing frequency nowadays, when I seem to know nothing, when everything I know seems to have fallen out of my mind like a shower of rain, and I am gripped for a moment in paralysed dismay, waiting for it all to come back but with no certainty that it will.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“Yes, this is what I thought adulthood would be, a kind of long Indian summer, a state of tranquility, of calm incuriousness, with nothing left of the barely bearable raw immediacy of childhood, all the things solved that had puzzled me when I was small, all mysteries settled, all questions answered, and the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed quietus.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“I had a sudden image of myself as a sort of large dark simian something slumped there at the table, or not a something but a nothing, rather, a hole in the room, a palpable absence, a darkness visible.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“How is it that in childhood everything new that caught my interest had an aura of the uncanny, since according to all the authorities the uncanny is not some new thing but a thing known returning in a different form, become a revenant?” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit it, for cosiness. This is a surprising, not to say a shocking, realization.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“Another week done with. How quickly the time goes as the season advances, the earth hurtling along its groove into the year’s sharply descending final arc.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“Although it was autumn and not summer the dark-gold sunlight and the inky shadows, long and slender in the shape of felled cypresses, were the same, and there was the same sense of everything drenched and jewelled and the same ultramarine glitter on the sea. I felt inexplicably lightened; it was as of the evening, in all the drench and drip of its fallacious pathos, had temporarily taken over from me the burden of grieving.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“I was always a distinct no-one, whose fiercest wish was to be an indistinct someone.” ~ John Banville, The Sea

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“I was thinking of Anna. I make myself think of her, I do it as an exercise. She is lodged in me like a knife and yet I am beginning to forget her. Already the image of her that I hold in my head is fraying, bits of pigments, flakes of gold leaf, are chipping off. Will the entire canvas be empty one day?” ~ John Banville, The Sea


Indeed, The Sea is a melancholic read, with its exploration of the past, of loss and grief. It is nostalgia-laden and possesses a texture that is a bit crude on the surface. Nevertheless, it is a well for good quotes. How about you reader, what lines from The Sea caught your attention? Share it in the comment box.

Happy reading!

~ CLB