Rating: 3.5* of five The Book Description: When Max Morden returns to the coastal town where he spent a holiday in his youth he is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma.The Grace family appear that long ago summer as if from another world. Drawn to the Grace twins, Chloe and Myles, Max soon finds himself entangled in their lives, which are as seductive as they are unsettling. What ensues will haunt him for the rest of his years and shape everything that is to follow.John Banville is one of the most sublime writers working in the English language. Utterly compelling, profoundly moving and illuminating, The Sea is quite possibly the best thing he has ever written. My Review: The experience of reading Banville is akin to the experience of going to a whole museum dedicated to Renoir or Monet: At first, the awestruck lip-smacking chin-drooling moaning of readerly joy:They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide. All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled and swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. The rusted hulk of the freighter that had run aground at the far end of the bay longer ago than any of us could remember must have thought it was being granted a relaunch. I would not swim again, after that day. The seabirds mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue and malignantly agleam. (p3, Picador hardcover edition)This gorgeous, sumptuous repast, this unsettling, foreboding atmosphere, this unbearably tense muscle in the brain MUST be leading to some cathartic, catastrophic release! There is a great change coming, there is something to contrast this soft and lovely tone, this unsettling beauty, this pastry cream in a pool of custard frosted with whipped cream with. Well, now:Could we, could I, have done otherwise? Could I have lived differently? Fruitless interrogation. Of course I could, but I did not, and therein lies the absurdity of even asking. Anyway, where are the paragons of authenticity against whom my concocted self might be measured? In those final bathroom paintings that Bonnard did of the septuagenarian Marthe he was still depicting her as the teenager he had thought she was when he first met her. Why should I demand more veracity of vision of myself than of a great and tragic artist? (p218, Picador hardcover edition)And there it is, the catharsis. Sorta kinda, anyway. As much as you'll be getting, so take it and like it. There's a backstory to the catharsis, but it's all written in the ever-so-much of a writer's writing, and like the sugary sweetness of Renoir and Monet, in large doses it simply doesn't wear all that well. One longs for a smudge of dirt on the painting, or a misplaced modifier in the sentence, or even no modifier at all. But no. No indeed, there is no surcease, and therefore there is surfeit.Now if the assembled company will pardon me, I am off to eat plain Zweiback, drink tap water, and stare at a blank wall for a while, until my senses are defatted.