THE SEA, THE SEA by Iris Murdoch
Kirkus Star

THE SEA, THE SEA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There is a faint smell of fire and brimstone when something of the past comes tearing to the surface vivid and complete."" So says 60-ish Charles--famed theater personality, an egotist who gives exquisite attention to life's small pleasures, and somewhat of a stinker--who is now a recluse in a curious old house on a wild English promontory breasting the sea. But obscenely arising from Charles' clean sea is a sea monster (an LSD trip rerun?), and there are other spectral matters hinting of demons abroad, as Charles ruminates his past, from a childhood Eden wriggling with jealousies and envy to an adulthood dotted incidentally with women. The older woman he did really love, now dead, partner in shuttlecock rounds of rows and reunions. Ferocious Rosina, whom Charles levered away from her husband, then refused to marry. And slavish Lizzie, always the good little girl for the asking. These women, among others, Charles niched in order of utility. But one relationship was on a different, pure plane. Hartley, ah Hartley, ""My first love and. . . my only love. . . my end and my beginning."" Hartley, when they were both young, refused Charles to marry another--and disappeared. Now, 40 years later, when Charles' world is about to quake, Hartley reappears, ""a stout, elderly woman. . . holding a shopping bag."" Charles, repossessed by a love that is ""absolute,"" sets out to shake Hartley from her husband in their tea-cosy cottage, with feverish avowals and labyrinthine scheming. Hartley sobs and rages within this vise of adoration, and a motley crew of Charles' ""friends"" attempts to head off Charles' manic pursuit. But there's a wind change as a young man is drowned, and Rosina's ex-husband makes an admirably forthright attempt to dispatch Charles. Then storms subside in criss-cross ripples of new unions and new bafflements. Although the metaphysical games can snarl a bit, this bright play with the demons that we unleash on one another is entertainment both sly and tantalizing.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1978
ISBN: 014118616X
Publisher: Viking