Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Finished: "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

Finished: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, 2011, 9781611733259 (large print).

Meh.  Guy in his sixties recalls his school days and how memory changes.  Details are forgotten then remembered.  Events were misunderstood and later re-evaluated.  Actions are subconsciously blurred and then clarified.  Behavior and conversation are misinterpreted.  Long held truths were just shadows. Spoilers await.

Told by Antony, Tony, in his retirement years.  Private schooled in London with three good pals in the last couple years of school.  He attended university.  Had a girlfriend at school.  Met the girlfriend's family.  Never had sex with the girl.  Broke up with the girlfriend who subsequently did sleep with Tony.  Tony was decided he was not interested in her anyway.  She subsequently dated one of those three school pals.  Later on one of that same school pal killed himself.

Tony graduated.  Got married.  Had a child.  Was divorced.  Continued his bureaucratic career until retirement and stayed on good terms with his ex-wife.  Tony gets a letter from a solicitor saying the mother of the Ex-Girlfriend left him 500 pounds and a diary.  The diary was the deceased school mate's.  The diary is held by Ex-Girlfriend.  Ex-Girlfriend refuses contact, for at time, and says the diary was burned. 

Tony is nostalgic and tries to communicate with Ex-Girlfriend.  Ex-Girlfriend is not a happy camper in general.  After a couple conversations and several emails Ex-Girlfriend takes Tony on car ride and she very briefly meets with a mentally disabled guy.  Later on Tony learns mentally disabled guy is the child of Dead Schoolmate and Ex-Girlfriend's mother.

I liked quite a bit of the story but the ending was "meh".  In a way that ending fits with the novel.  Tony could be said to have lived a meh life.  But, was it really?  He was average, he was normal.  He did not live as great literature taught him as a youth but so what?  Why should the ending reveal shocking secrets when his life - by his own account - had no others?

1.  Maybe this was a good book.  I have plenty of comments I could share after all.  It must have touched a nerve or discussed topics of substance for me to do that.  Right?
2.  " compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting.  With stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, it is a brilliant work and winner of the Man Booker Prize."  Geez, I wouldn't go that far. 
3. Ex-Girlfriend was described as manipulative.  Ex-Wife calls her the Fruitcake.  Was she?  Everything was seen through Tony's memory.
4.  Tony was bitter when he learned that Ex-Girlfriend and Dead Schoolmate were dating.  He wrote a letter wishing them an awful time and saying Ex-Girlfriend's Mother warned Tony about her.  Tony wrote that Dead Schoolmate should talk to Ex-Girlfriend's Mother.  Dead Schoolmate and Ex-Girlfriend's have "full sex" (as young Tony called it) and Dead Schoolmate killed himself.
5. Dead Schoolmate was the smart one of the boys.  He was a strong thinker and a scholarship student at Oxford.  Even his suicide was considered smart.  That Dead Schoolmate approached his end with a philosophical rationality.  Then Tony finds out that Dead Schoolmate was likely just distraught over knocking up the middle-aged mother of his girlfriend.
6.  I don't quite understand the "blood money" payment by Ex-Girlfriend's Mother to Tony.  Ex-Girlfriend called it blood money but what payment would have been due Tony?  That Tony's pal was forced into death?

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