"Exotic...erotic... Ocean Sea is highly romantic and breathtakingly lyrical."--The New York Times Book Review
With Silk, his first novel to appear in English, Alessandro Baricco immediately proved himself to be a magical storyteller. With Ocean Sea, he has been acclaimed as the successor to Italo Calvino, and a major voice in modern literature.
In Ocean Sea, Alessandro Baricco presents a hypnotizing postmodern fable of human malady--psychological, existential, erotic--and the sea as a means of deliverance. At the Almayer Inn, a remote shoreline hotel, an artist dips his brush in a cup of ocean water to paint a portrait of the sea. A scientist pens love letters to a woman he has yet to meet. An adulteress searches for relief from her proclivity to fall in love. And a sixteen-year-old girl seeks a cure from a mysterious condition which science has failed to remedy. When these people meet, their fates begin to interact as if by design. Enter a mighty tempest and a ghostly mariner with a thirst for vengeance, and the Inn becomes a place where destiny and desire battle for the upper hand. Playful, provocative, and ultimately profound, Ocean Sea is a novel of striking originality and wisdom.
In Alessandro Baricco's celebrated debut, it was silk that exerted a fatal attraction. This time it's the ocean, whose watery charms cause an entire cast of characters to convene at the isolated Almayer Inn. The guests include a seductress, an eccentric professor, and a painter with a pronounced penchant for metaphysics. They're soon joined by the beautiful young daughter of a local aristocrat, who's been stricken with a mysterious illness. In a sense, however, all these characters are suffering from maladies--psychological, existential, erotic--which makes the Almayer Inn a kind of Magic Mountain with beachfront footage.
The author is a renowned opera critic in his native Italy. Perhaps this accounts for his love of linguistic arias, which can overpower the plot of Ocean Sea. When Baricco gets rolling, of course, his intricately worked prose is a delight. Even the inn itself, situated alone on a promontory, gets the red carpet treatment: "So alone it was there, it seemed a thing forgotten. It was almost as if a procession of inns, of every kind and vintage, had passed by there one day, skirting the coast, when, out of tiredness, one had detached itself from the rest, and, as its travelling companions filed past, it decided to stop on that slight rise, yielding to its own weakness, bowing its head and waiting for the end." At his best, Baricco recalls Italo Calvino--there's the same pleasure in elegant riddles and rococo storytelling. Here and there the narrative of Ocean Sea vanishes down a dead end, and the author's weakness for typographical trickery doesn't help. Still, Baricco's novel remains a refreshing dunk in what Christina Stead called "the ocean of story"--and a brainy exploration of the littoral truth. --Bob Brandeis