Friday, March 30, 2012

Book thirty-five: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Let's talk about time.  I'm constantly wondering about time; and by time I really mean memory; all those stories I remember from my past; those stories that I can't confirm, that I'm unsure about, that I wish I could confirm. I've spent a lot of time lately trying to confirm my memories, interviewing my parents and others to figure out if my memories match the those of others.

With that in mind, let's talk about this year's Man Booker prize-winner, Julian Barnes and his winning novel, The Sense of an Ending.  This is a book about time and memory and how we all remember things differently.  It's also a story about what happens when we are confronted with the reality of the past.

I have no intention of even hinting at the characters or the plot or the action that makes this novel work.  I'm convinced this is a book best read with as little advance knowledge as possible.  But it's definitely a book worth reading.  It starts with a list of vague memories.  Then, as you read the book, each of those listed memories returns to inform the tale and remind characters that time may or may not heal.

1 comment:

  1. If Barnes's novel was only a philosophical treatise on themes such as, for example, the constructedness of history, memory, love or remorse, then only a few people would read it, so the author offers us some kind of mystery story which the main protagonist Webster has to solve: the deceased mother of his former girlfriend Veronica has left him 500 pounds as well as the diary of his friend Adrian. Why does Veronica's mother do this and will the content of Adrian's diary shed some light on his suicide?

    This "mystery story" only works because Veronica remains more or less silent throughout the second part of the book. She may fall into the category of the mysterious woman; after all Barnes is at pains to portray her as a woman that is surrounded by an air of secrecy, so it may seem in keeping with her character that she does not immediately tell Webster all she knows, her monosyllabic replies may also just be credible, but her continuous repetition of the set phrase "You just don't get it, do you?" when she meets Webster after so many years is just not credible at all. For me this is the central weakness of the plot, resulting from a flawed character-construction. Either that or the unreliable narrator may have, once again, constructed his very own version of the past.