The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

Though an interesting read, it was also occasionally difficult to continue The Sea, The Sea, so convoluted are the mental musings of Charles Arrowby, the main character. I never fully connected to him or any other character, though the setting – an isolated house on a cliff overlooking the ocean – sounds appropriately Gothic and Romantic and just where I would like to spend my summer vacation. Minus the sea dragons, of course.


Charles is a pain in the ass, quite frankly. He’s arrogant as hell, he writes about the most mundane things in his daily life as though they were momentous occasions, and he suffers under grand delusions that he is adored and that everyone sees the world in the exact same way he does – with him at the center of everything. Although, as he starts having his “delusions,” I felt a bit sorry for him; and when he becomes convinced that his first love, Hartley, still carries a torch for him (even though she’s been married for years, has children and shows no desire to rekindle the flame), I felt like he was crossing the line into total madness.


I think it’s safe to say that the sea is supposed to be something of a parallel for Charles’s moods. It’s calm, he has his moments of calmness. It rages and wreaks havoc………so does he in the lives of those he claims to care for. It’s a fascinating read, if you can work through all the daily detail and the inner workings of a rather twisted male mind (though I’ve yet to meet a male mind that wasn’t twisted). But the luscious descriptions of food and meals that he eats and details in his diary were his saving grace and provided me with a lot of cooking inspiration.


Lentil soup with chipolata sausages and onions and apples! Scrambled eggs with frankfurters and grilled tomatoes with garlic! Corned beef with red cabbage and pickled walnuts! Baked potatoes with cream cheese and lemon! Macaroni and cheese with garlic, basil, olive oil, more cheese and courgettes (which are zucchini – I had to look that one up.) Anchovy paste on toast with baked beans, tomatoes, celery, lemon juice and olive oil!Β  He also drinks wine by the gallon, so he isn’t completely without good qualities. And the man loves his food. As do we all.


“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.”

I love lentil soup, and recently found a delicious one, and here’s the wonderful recipe, on Chocolate and Zucchini’s most excellent blog. I used it as a base, but as usual, with my own added taste tweaks. Having recently purchased my first stove-top grill pan, some grilled shrimp also seemed to be in order. And with that vacuum-sealed bag of fresh, peeled chestnuts waiting in my pantry……..It was meant to be.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 red onion, peeled
4 cloves of garlic
1 rib of celery
1 and 1/2 cups lentils, any type
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon paste
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 and 1/2 cups fresh chestnuts, peeled
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups shrimp, deveined and thawed, but still with their tails attached
Wooden skewers soaked in water for an hour


Chop the onion and garlic in a food processor, or with a mezzaluna. I love using my mezzaluna. It makes even a total klutz like me look like I know what I’m doing.


In a large pan, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and onion, sprinkle over some salt and pepper, and cook on low for about 10 minutes. The smell will rise up and hit your nose like savory heaven! Then, add the fresh herbs and stir for another five minutes.


Add the bay leaves and the lentils and give them a good stir, so they get covered with the oil, butter and cooked veggies.


Add the chicken broth and the bouillon paste. Stir gently, lower the heat, cover with a (preferably see-through) lid, and cook at a very low simmer for 30 minutes.


After half an hour, add the chestnuts. Cook another 30 minutes.


I know it’s hard, but try your hardest to resist taking the lid off and stirring the lentils while cooking. Try really hard. When they keep getting hit with air and being stirred during cooking, they get mushy. So just don’t. Have a glass of wine to distract yourself if you must.


You can either use a stick blender or a regular blender to puree this soup into a thick, luscious, unctuous mix. I chose the stick blender simply because it’s easier to clean, and I enjoy watching the puree process. I’m weird like that.


Cover the pureed soup to stay warm, and heat your grill pan. Sprinkle garlic powder, salt and pepper onto the shrimp for seasoning. Then, thread 5-6 shrimp on a waterlogged skewer, and grill in the heated grill pan. Watch the shrimp closely and when they get pink and striped like a tiger, immediately remove.


Cook the bacon in the same pan, and when cool, crumble.


Decant the soup into bowls and add a swirl of heavy cream to each one. Garnish with the beautiful grilled shrimp, and bacon, unless you’re a vegetarian……and if you are, my sincere condolences.


Eat, in Charles Arrowby style, with great enjoyment and copious amounts of red wine.


The soup is lovely, well seasoned, and the shrimp add a delicious, saline note that wonderfully offsets the richness of the chestnuts and the earthiness of the lentils. Soooooo good, and rewarms beautifully and deliciously the next day, too.

27 thoughts on “The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

    1. Yes, a lesson I learned the very hard way by messing up several pots of lentils. It’s hard to resist the temptation to lift the lid and stir them. I highly recommend you have a glass of wine now for distraction purposes. πŸ˜ƒπŸ·


  1. Sounds like a crazy dish! (your ring is so sparkly!!!) I love that you have yet to find a man without a twisted mind… So true!!! It definitely sounds like the sea played a big part in the emotions of Charles! πŸ’– Great review and food, as always dear! πŸ»πŸ’–

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and my sparkly ring! The soup itself is pretty goddamn amazing if I do say so myself. It’s maybe not easy but it’s not super difficult and the payoff is worth it. The book was a pain in the ass and I would not recommend anybody to read it unless they really want to slog through some truly painful Meandering literature. All due respect to Iris Murdoch.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an incredible amount of flavors in that soup! Soup might just be too common of a description for such a concoction. And shrimp and bacon, too!

    I have never had chestnuts, believe it or not, although when I was young we used to pick them off the neighbor’s tree and make rings out of them. But then the chestnut trees were all destroyed.

    He can keep his old eggs and frankfurters, though, lol!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mollie! The vacuum-packed chestnuts I get from are the best, and I love that they can be used for either sweet or savory recipes. That’s a bummer about your chestnut trees, though. I agree that the flavors of shrimp, lentil and bacon are a match made in heaven. I’d say this is a perfect Sunday afternoon meal to make and enjoy. And I totally agree about the frankfurters. LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I never knew that. I thought you were referring to chestnuts that you maybe had in a garden growing up. I didn’t realize there were no American chestnuts at all. Which is even more of a bummer. Well, thank God for Amazon, right?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love lentils! I have to try this soup. It looks so delicious.

    The book sounds okay but maybe a little annoying. I love that quote though. It’s so true. ❀ Thanks for sharing. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, this looks tasty! I love shrimp and lentils, but wouldn’t have thought to combine them. I think it would be a delicious summer soup. And I love all the colors! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It really came out good. I don’t recommend the book, simply because it is quite convoluted and it was a struggle to get through. But the food inspiration in it is quite good.


  5. sounds like in this case one should skip the novel and go straight to the soup! May i have a bowl please? looks complicated though! When i’m alone, my normal dinner is cheese and crackers and a beer. i do cook cajun though. my specialty is blackened toast πŸ™‚ thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I wanted to like this book! But apparently my dislike for the book shows through. Don’t be intimidated, Rottingkins, the soup itself is extremely easy to make. Perhaps a sprinkling of cheese and a few cubes of burnt toast might add to the flavor!


  6. Vanessa this is a wonderful recipe for lentils. The addition of chestnuts makes it even more interesting. I will definitely try this out very soon. I find the combination of grilled shrimp and lentils a match in heaven! I am sure this was absolutely deliciousπŸ˜ƒπŸ–’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you liked it! I loved the combination of the lentils and chestnuts, and the grilled shrimp really added to the flavor. It’s a thick soup, so you may have to thin with water or milk or broth. Thanks for the support!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can taste this meal with my eyes, too bad not with my taste buds. Although I’ve not read this particular story, your description of an isolated lighthouse sounds like heaven, as solitude is more of my preferred leaning. An “unctuous,” as you put it, bowl of soup paired with pounding waves sounds delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

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