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Book Review - The Sea the Sea by Iris Murdoch

Winner Booker Prize 1978 

Extraordinary Storytelling and Narration!

This is an extraordinary combination of superb prose writing, storytelling, narration, and character depth. I first heard of this book from an excellent book reviewer "The Book Chemist" on YouTube. His review and the fact that Simon Vance was the narrator caused me to suddenly add it to my TBR list in front of the next book.

 The main character narrates the story in the first person. In the audiobook, the narrator Simon Vance is amazing in his performance. The character Charles is a former famous London playhouse director and actor, who has decided to retire to a small seaside village and buys a house on a cliff that overlooks the sea.

 Both the house and the sea are characters in the book similar to a Thomas Hardy novel. Just as the sea is always changing in colors and turbulence, the house is also changing by the dialogue and interaction of the characters within it.

 Charle's planned peaceful life is disrupted by his own and others' love obsessions and the story unfolds in more complexity as characters come into the story and become intertwined in complex relationships.

 The  "karmic past" comes back to haunt Charles and he holds his own as a strong controlling character. He tries to direct his own life in the new setting by the sea and in his home yet cannot control how life's events unfold.

 Food is also an important part of the narrative as shown in this quote:
 "I ate and drank slowly as one should (cook fast, eat slowly) and without distractions such as (thank heavens) conversation or reading. Indeed eating is so pleasant one should even try to suppress thought. Of course, reading and thinking are important but, my God, food is important too. How fortunate we are to be food-consuming animals. Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger." 

 My journey with this story was like a page-turner, and as an audiobook, with the excellent narration by Simon Vance, it was hard to stop. I became immersed and engaged with the story and characters.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strengths of this book are its deep focus on character and love obsession, excellent prose, and a stellar audio narration. 

 A weakness in the story might be that there is too much emphasis on the love obsession to the point that it becomes redundant. Yet this might be intentional on the part of the author to show how mental illness can create excessive behaviors.

With most of the characters being actors, then the line between real and acting becomes thin. This becomes a theme in the book both in the characters and in their thoughts, and the challenge for the reader and the characters is to discern which is which in any given moment. The Shakespeare quote could easily be in the background of this story:

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts." - Shakespeare

 This is a book that I plan to keep in my library and listen to again, as the writing style of Iris Murdoch resonates with my experience of listening to audiobooks. There is magic in her style of writing in this book, and I look forward to savoring more of her books like a favorite red wine. 



The Candy House by Jennifer Egan is Now Available

 I just received notice that this pre-ordered audiobook is now ready in my Audible library. 

"Named a Most Anticipated Book of the Year by Time, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Oprah Daily, Glamour, USA Today, Parade, Bustle, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, The Boston Globe, Tampa Bay Times, BuzzFeed, Vulture, and many more!

From one of the most celebrated writers of our time, a literary figure with cult status, a “sibling novel” to her Pulitzer Prize- and ​NBCC Award-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad—an electrifying, deeply moving novel about the quest for authenticity and meaning in a world where memories and identities are no longer private."

"In spellbinding interlocking narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of “Own Your Unconscious,” a fictional foray into the idea of a technology that allows us access to every memory we’ve ever had, and to share these memories in exchange for access to the memories of others. Through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades, this intellectually dazzling story is also extraordinarily moving, a testament to the tenacity and transcendence of human longing for real connection, love, family, privacy and redemption. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of narrative styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter and a chapter of tweets. If Goon Squad was organized like a concept album, The Candy House incorporates Electronic Dance Music’s more disjunctive approach. Join us as the two extraordinary literary voices of Jennifer Egan and Danzy Senna walk us through The Candy House and its bold, brilliant imagining of a world that is moments away."

Enjoy this book as a free download with a free trial on Audible.

Inspiration from A Visit From the Goon Squad

 A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

- a novel by Jennifer Egan (2010)
Book Review and Reflections 

The "goon squad" visited me the other day when I finished this Pulitzer Prize winning book and after catching my breath immediately wanted to start it again. 

 The audiobook experience in particular was immersive, and narrated by Roxana Ortega with the subtle nuances and voice inflections that were uniquely performed in the narrative and in every character. 

The ground-breaking unique novel is connected to the following themes that cross over like threads and move back and forth in time. Time is a main theme along with the rise and dilution in the music industry, changes in life, friendship, relationships, digital culture on steroids, and redemption. 
Each chapter is like a track on an album and stands alone but is connected to the whole.  

Hemingway's quote about being immersed in the storytelling is relevant here, especially  with this extraordinary novel, as this is what happens with this page turner, or in the case of an audiobook, the difficulty of pressing the pause or stop button. 
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”  - - Ernest Hemingway  
When I listened to this audiobook I was right there with every character like it was a vicarious journey of a variety of experiences. A natural high - I think endorphins were being released ! :) 
Rave reviews by the NY Times and Wash. Post on Audible:

“Pitch perfect.... Is there anything Egan can’t do in this mash-up of forms? Write successfully in the second person? Check. Parody celebrity journalism and David Foster Wallace at the same time? Check. Make a moving narrative out of a PowerPoint presentation? Check.... Although shredded with loss, A Visit from the Goon Squad is often darkly, rippingly funny. Egan possesses a satirist’s eye and a romance novelist’s heart.... No one is beyond the pale of her affection; no one is spared lampooning.... For a book so relentlessly savvy about the digital age and its effect on how we experience time (speeded up, herky-jerky, instantaneous, but also full of unbearable gaps and pauses), A Visit from the Goon Squad is remarkably old-fashioned in its obsession with time’s effects on characters, that preoccupation of those doorstop 19th-century novels.” (Will Blythe, The New York Times Book Review)

“If Jennifer Egan is our reward for living through the self-conscious gimmicks and ironic claptrap of postmodernism, then it was all worthwhile.... A deeply humane story about growing up and growing old in a culture corroded by technology and marketing.... [A] triumph of technical bravado and tender sympathy.... Here, in ways that surprise and delight again, she transcends slick boomer nostalgia and offers a testament to the redemptive power of raw emotion in an age of synthetic sound and glossy avatars. Turn up the music, skip the college reunion and curl up with The Goon Squad instead.” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post)

With the 7 day Audible free trial get a free audiobook download. Then you can still cancel and keep it. Life may never be the same after a visit from the goon squad.

 Free download of A Visit From the Goon Squad >



The Inspiration of $15 for a Unique Travel Experience

Travel for $15 or Less?


Back in the day, (1971 to be back-enough), it was common to see books or articles describing seeing Europe for $5 a day. With a backpack and a Europass, it was not that difficult. 

As a student, I took a six week class on Italy's Economic Development in Bari, then had six weeks to travel in Europe with a Eurail pass. My travel companion and I enjoyed the art in Rome and Florence, and then she wanted to go to Paris and I to a remote unknown area of Europe to be determined. In retrospect, I wished I had stayed with her :)

I ended up going to Norway on the Eurail pass and stopped in Amsterdam and Copenhagen on the way. I had to see the Rembrandt museum, and also saw the Munch museum in Oslo before taking the train North above the Arctic circle to Trondheim. 

The train ride there was beautiful with verdant green valleys, tall waterfalls, and fjords. Yes, I escaped the typical Europe tour destinations and instead experienced some amazing country. Having Norwegian in my bloodline might have helped.

Fast forward to the New Normal in 2022 and travel is in everyone's bones after two years of lockdowns and mandates. Yet it is not the same. The world changed in 2020 and the change is still going on. 

Travel is a must for some, and a wish for many.
Then there is the cost. There is also the alternative - armchair traveling.

Real vs Armchair

Before covid I already had some experience as an armchair traveler, and now I have gained some skills and variety that is enjoyable on many levels. 

Of course real, physical travel is hands on fun and the experiences are direct. Yet for me, virtual travel and vicarious experience is also fun and very rewarding.

I might mention that I live in Mexico permanently and am married to a beautiful Mexican woman. Living here and sharing my life with her is beyond travel - maybe like a permanent vacation? We have traveled to two beautiful destinations here in Mexico in 2019. We are planning for more at some time in the near future.

Until then, my armchair travels are from here - a Mexican city on the Gulf coast 
with a beautiful beach, Gulf breezes every afternoon, a semi-tropical climate, and the magic of Mexico.

So What About the $15 Travel Experience?

Experiencing storytelling for the price of an audiobook will allow you to travel to other lands and cultures, see life through the eyes of unique characters, and the creative mind of the writer, and choose which adventure you want to have next. 

(ok, this is one of many types of armchair travel, and I am passionate about audiobooks, so some space is dedicated here for this idea.)

There is also a bonus - you can time travel if the stories are based in other times and in history. 

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”  - - Ernest Hemingway

I've enjoyed vicarious experience on a whaling ship, hanging out with Hemingway's characters in Spain, Steinbeck's in California, and being engaged with amazing stories based in England, France, historic U.S.Russia (yes, Tolstoy is not sanctioned), South America, and California in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

YouTube Travel

YouTube has virtual tours, historical videos, and a huge variety of  travel related content that can be enjoyed as an armchair traveler vicariously.

There is inspiration is adopting a mindset of possibilities with your imagination and creative choice of content that will be your next armchair travel adventure.  

Here's some examples of free downloads with a subscription from the Audible Plus Catalog:

1) Travel Paris

"This collection includes the story of 6 of Paris' most famous and beautiful destinations - The Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, The Latin Quarter, Notre Dame, The Champs Elysees and The Louvre.

An innovative travel series, transporting the armchair traveller or getting you in the mood for discover on route to your destination."

My Southern Journey - True Stories from the Heart of the South

"From celebrated New York Times best-selling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Rick Bragg comes a poignant and wryly funny collection of essays on life in the South. Keenly observed and written with his insightful and deadpan sense of humor, Bragg explores enduring Southern truths about home, place, spirit, table, and the regions' varied geographies, including his native Alabama, Cajun country, and the Gulf Coast. Everything is explored, from regional obsessions with college football and fishing to mayonnaise and spoonbread to the simple beauty of a fish on the hook. Collected from over a decade of his writing, with many never-before-published essays written specifically for this edition, My Southern Journey is an entertaining and engaging listen, especially for Southerners (or Southerners at heart) and anyone who appreciates great writing" 

3) The Count of Monte Cristo   

My favorite novel of all time and what a journey. Travel back in time to France with this celebrated 52 hr classic audiobook. Adventure, romance, suspense, historical fiction, and amazing storytelling. 

The Inspiration of $15 for a Unique Travel Experience might not cost a dime. There is inspiration for free armchair travel and here's one of many options below $15.
(Note: Audible has a "Plus Catalog" which has thousands of free audiobook downloads. There is a free 7 day trial with a free credit for an audiobook. Check it out:

Try Audible Plus