Thursday, 18 August 2011
The Sense of an Ending
Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Number of pages: 150
Started: 17 August 2011
Finished: 18 August 2011
I remember, in no particular order:
-- a shiny inner wrist;
-- steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
-- gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
-- a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
-- another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
-- bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This last isn't something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed.
We live in time -- it holds us and moulds us -- but I've never felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing -- until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.
I'm not very interested in my schooldays, and don't feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can't be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That's the best I can manage.
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.
Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.
What I thought:
This book is marketed as a “short novel”, and that it was at a mere 150 pages. In order for a book to be eligible for the Bookers it must be a novel, rather than a novella, so presumably the publishers were looking to ensure that there was no doubt on this issue – although I am not entirely sure what the difference is between a “short novel” and a “novella”.
The story was told by its unreliable narrator, Tony. It started in his school days with the friendships he made at his single-sex school, through to some forty years later when he has to re-evaluate things of the past.
This was a well written book and it was an engaging and intriguing tale. It was an interesting, and at times amusing consideration of things of the past for the narrator to try and understand some events unfolding in the present. The book had a sense of mystery about it and wove together a plot that moved between the distant past and the present, and did it very well.
A good read, despite its brevity.