[For Sirp] Review of The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

Published in the May 27 2022 issue of Estonian cultural weekly Sirp. Read here: Maapealse elu deemonitest kubiseval palverännakul, saateks merekohin

Some unrelated thoughts & quotes are shared below:

The Sea, The Sea was published in 1978 and received The Booker Prize the same year. As it was recently republished in Estonia in Varrak’s Kuldsari (Golden Series), I reread and reviewed it for Sirp. I hadn’t expected the second reading to bring so much joy which it most certainly did. The book’s opening passage is a paragraph of beauty:

“The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine. With the tide turning, it leans quietly against the land, almost unflecked by ripples or by foam. Near the horizon it is a luxurious purple, spotted with regular lines of emerald green. At the horizon it is indigo. Near to the shore, where my view is framed by rising heaps of humpy yellow rock, there is a band of lighter green, icy and pure, less radiant, opaque however, not transparent. We are in the north, and the bright sunshine cannot penetrate the sea. Where the gentle water taps the rocks there is still a surface skin of colour. The cloudless sky is very pale at the indigo horizon which it lightly pencils in with silver. Its blue gains towards the zenith and vibrates there. But the sky looks cold, even the sun looks cold.”

While the intellectual and philosophical musings on ethics and morals – Murdoch’s dear subjects – are through-provoking in their own right, I marveled and smiled most at the protagonists’ culinary escapades, modeled on the recipes of Murdoch’s husband John Bailey.

“For dinner I had an egg poached in hot scrambled egg, then the coley braised with onions and lightly dusted with curry powder, and served with a little tomato ketchup and mustard (only a fool despises tomato ketchup.) Then a heavenly rice pudding.”

“Why wantonly destroy one’s palate for cheap wine (And by that I do not of course mean the brew that tastes of bananas) One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better.”

“For lunch I ate the kipper fillets rapidly unfrozen in boiling water (the sun had done most of the work), garnished with lemon juice, oil and a light sprinkling of dry herbs. Kipper fillets are arguably better then smoked salmon unless very good. With these fried tinned potatoes (no real potatoes yet) Potatoes are for me a treat dish, not a dull every day chaperon. Then Welsh rarebit and hot beetroot. The shop sliced bread is less than great, but all right toasted with good salty New Zealand butter. Fortunately I like a wide variety of those crackly Scandinavian biscuits which are supposed to make you thin.”

“Felt a little depressed but was cheered up by supper; spaghetti with a little butter and dried basil (Basil is of course the king of herbs). Then spring cabbage cooked slowly with dill. Boiled onions served with bran, herbs, soya oil and tomatoes, with one egg beaten in. With these a slice or two of cold tinned corned beef.”

Bon appetit, yo.