Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an EndingI read this at the behest of my reading group, and then at the last minute didn't go, so I don't know what sort of reactions the group had to it, but I suspect that the group verdict was divided. I think this book probably appeals to certain kinds of readers more than others. I'd guess it appeals more to those who appreciate artful construction and stylistic gifts as much or more than they do character. After finishing the book, I've read a few people who have pointed out how well it is woven together, how the opening schoolboy class dialogue marks out the themes of sex and death throughout the book and so on.

Frankly, that's all a little above me. In some ways, I found the narrator too slight a character to be the center of even a short novella. In some ways, he represents the etiolated end of the line of a long, long line of British literature, a character turned in on himself even as he thinks he's investigating what happened to another. But I'm sure there are people who will give Barnes more credit for writing this than I do.

One thing that did not entirely ring true for me was the way that these memories of youth played out in the later years of the protagonist. Or perhaps people have different connections to the past, different senses of its importance. But having had one of those significant passages of my own life resurface in unexpected ways recently, I found that the similar reemergence of the unexpected in the book had an effect that I didn't quite buy. I think later in life, we tend to look at high moments of our past with interest and even nostalgia, but with more dispassion. Not without compassion for the people we all were then, but with a certain distance and understanding that life plays out differently than we think it will. I was a bit surprised really that then narrator had not been able to move beyond the past to any real degree.

That said, it is probably a book I should read again, as there were certain aspects of the timing and the significance of things I didn't really understand. Probably should, probably won't.

I came across this piece in the New York Times by Geoff Dyer that expresses my feelings a good bit better than I can.

For those who have read the book, and would like to delve into what it is all about, you might enjoy this piece over at Pechorin's Journal because the author enjoys the book, even while somewhat critical, and the bonus feature is that he links to a bunch of other people's blog reviews that he liked on the book in the last paragraph. I have to say that I didn't really find that I had missed anything major but I have a feeling that this is either a book that speaks to you or doesn't, and I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from reading it who might get a bit more out of it than I did.

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