Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sense of an Ending

Photo via Belgrade Bookshop

What a triumph by Julian Barnes. I'm going to read a bunch of his other novels now. He's written at least ten others, but The Sense of an Ending (Knopf in hardcover, Vintage in paperback, 2011) is the first novel in a long while that absorbed me to the point that I was walking and reading simultaneously. It's possible to read the entire thing in one good sitting, or split into a couple. At 176 pages, it packs a punch.

One of my favorite passages:

I spent the next few days trying to think round all the angles and corners of Adrian's death. While I could hardly have expected a farewell letter myself, I was disappointed for Colin and Alex. And how was I to think about Veronica now? Adrian loved her, yet he had killed himself: how was that explicable? For most of us, the first experience of love, even if it doesnt work out--perhaps especially when it doesn't work out--promises that here is the thing that validates, that vindicates life. And though subsequent years might alter this view, until some of us give up on it altogether, when love first strikes, there's nothing like it, is there? Agreed?         
But Adrian didn't agree.

Tony Webster, a middle aged English man confronted with remembrances of times and friends past, and also with the effect and defects of memory, introduces us to his friends from his youth: Colin, Alex, and Adrian. We meet Veronica, with whom he shared a twisted and uncomfortable relationship in college, and Tony remembers -- or tries -- how these friends lost touch and then how, decades later, he was faced with the consequences of actions of his youth.

So much of this book resonated with me personally. I think that's why it was so absorbing -- I was like a sponge while I read it, as if this fictional Tony Webster was a voice from my future telling me to stop and listen, and to learn from this lesson he was in the process of learning himself. By the end, I was certain that I was right: I had learned a lesson, and loved this novel all the more for it. Barnes' prose is beautiful, and he remembers Tony Webster's youthful and pretentious pedantry without coming across as pedantic. It's a feat, and it's magical.

I can't say enough about this book, so I'll stop here to be on the safe side. I don't generally collect fiction, and it's rare that I follow an author's work, but I feel that Julian Barnes, with this one title, may have won me. The Sense of an Ending took the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

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