Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Review - "The Sense of An Ending" by Julian Barnes

This was a haunting read, with depth. The author effortlessly leads readers into the protagonist’s recollection of his banal life as an average guy and then his subtle rediscovery of certain details of that life that have long been submerged in his memory, asking in the process philosophical questions about time and warped memory.

Part One (the recollection) shows the contrast in personality and intellect between Tony (the narrator-protagonist) and his prodigy friend Adrian whom he adores, captured during their school days. It tells the failed love affair between Tony and his girlfriend Veronica. As Tony remembers it, the fault lies with Veronica, as corroborated by her mother, who is sympathetic to Tony. Adrian goes on to become a brilliant philosophy graduate of Cambridge. One day Tony gets a letter from Adrian asking for his permission to date Veronica. Tony replies to the letter, which he burns in a fit. Shortly after, Tony receives news of Adrian’s suicide. Tony instinctively puts the blame of Adrian’s death on Veronica. Meanwhile he gets on with life.

Part Two (the rediscovery) begins with Tony receiving from a lawyer a sum of money bequeathed to him by Veronica’s mother and her letter telling him to get Adrian’s diary, which is in Veronica’s possession. Tony’s reunion with Veronica sets off an unraveling of the deeply buried details of his past life that relate to her, which details, along with desultory hints from Veronica, help him to change his perception of Veronica’s and Adrian’s character. Everything is not what it seems. The ultimate denouement is quite evocative.

The main theme of the novel centers on the effects that the passage of time can have on a person’s memory. Sometimes memory plays tricks on the human mind.

But time….how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time…. Give us enough time and our best-supported decision will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.

‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’

‘History is the lies of the victors.’ ‘As long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated.’

I’m giving this novel 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

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