I found the novel in a small and stuffy bookstore in a not so little village, located somewhere in the upper right corner of the map. It was a summer of many disappointments. I had dreamed of spending it by the softly rolling warm waves of the Black Sea. Instead, I was stuck in a particularly godforsaken section of the middle of nowhere for a month.
The book had a soothing olive green cover or so my memory seems to believe. It was hefty, bearing a promise to fill many hours. Years ago, during another, far more leisurely summer at my grandparents’ enchanted farm, I had read Iris Murdoch’s “The Sandcastle”. It had left a mark in my most likely too young to penetrate the deeper meanings of the novel but nevertheless impressionable mind. So I left that sad and unappreciated little bookstore with “The Sea, The Sea” in my possession.
These were times when reading was not subjected to much competition for access to my undivided attention. The afternoons were hot and I willingly let the pages of the novel take me to much cooler shores. At the age of nineteen, the idea of solitude was just as foreign to me as the philosophical quests of the main character. Yet, I found myself profoundly intrigued by the notion of self-sufficiency his reclusiveness exuded.
Charles Arrowby’s fastidiously refined choices left me seduced – the clean, simplistic rituals of his day, the invigorating swims in the cold ocean waters and the time spent in contemplation. And the dried apricots. Especially the dried apricots. My imagination was infatuated with them. I had never tasted any. My grandmother used to dry apple rings. Untreated with preservatives, they came out brownish and shriveled, and marked the gastronomic limits of my ventures into the world of gourmet dried fruit. Charles’ simple concept of dried apricots with shortcake biscuits and a glass of wine had all the markings of sophisticated succulence I was yet to experience.
Shallow as it may be, this is the part of this remarkable novel I most readily recollect twenty years later. I do recall how intoxicated I was by Iris Murdoch’s rich, resonant prose but only vaguely remember Charles Arrowby’s quasi-imaginary reunion with the long lost love of his life. His phobias and bourgeois contempt left me unscathed. But the memory of my first delectable encounter with the notion of the rich texture and tantalizing taste of dried apricots still visits me to this day.