Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Repost : A Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes

 A Sense Of An Ending

I don't normally repost anything but, I read A Sense Of An Ending 2 years ago, and read it again for book club this weekend, so it counts as having been read this year too. I have added extra detail upon second reflection, and made some edits.

Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Julian Barnes broke the curse having previously been unsuccessful with Flaubert's Parrot in 1984, England, England in 1998 and Arthur and George in 2005. I hadn't read any of his previous work but I really enjoyed this book, and will on the strength of it absolutely seek out some of his other works.

It is essentially a short novel, coming in at just 150 pages, which makes me wonder whether it is in fact a novella or an extended short story. It definitely does have the 'feel' of a short story about it. And it is therefore difficult to review without spoilers, but I'm going to try my best.

Tony Webster is an ordinary middle aged man who has had a fairly unremarkable life, he married, he had a child, he divorced as so many do. But when something occurs out of the blue, the past returns to haunt him and he is forced to re-examine his history in relation to his former schoolfriend Adrian Finn; a charismatic, clever, serious boy from a broken home whose life story became linked to his in a way that Tony had never imagined nor even given consideration to.

This book is in a way about the transgressions of youth, but it also has relevance to anyone of any age. In a temper Tony said some thoughtless and spiteful things, which, in many ways would be the default reaction of most people who are placed in the situation he is placed in, particularly a young man of his age at the time. But, this act of thoughtlessness, an act that he never really dwelt upon in the years that followed had massive repercussions for several lives thereafter.

One thing I noted on the second read was the important things it has to say about history. At one point Adrian Finn calls history "the point where the failures of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation" Particularly in individual lives as opposed to accepted global history. The recollections of 2 individuals about the one incident in both their lives may vary widely, what for one person is a terrible regret that they have pondered at length is for the other but a blip on their radar that they never dwelt upon.

This book gave me real pause for thought, as it made me think about the impact that our actions have on other people's stories. Even if what we say about the person is true, though in Tony's case it wasn't so much that; a selfish need to "get back" at someone or to find a means of expressing our feelings can cause a chain reaction the likes of which we never expected or were never aware. What happens is not Tony's "fault" per-se, he couldn't possibly have anticipated it, but yet it wouldn't have happened without that one action on his part, or....would it? It's a novel about making an error in the heat of the moment.

Then, as an older man this is something he is left to consider possibly the rest of his life, and never get the sense of an ending, the facts he possesses about the past are not entire yet it is clear that one person at least places the burden of blame squarely upon his shoulders. Is it really Tony's fault? We at book club said no...there were extenuating circumstances, but, the wounded recipient only cares about placing blame and not about the multitude of actions by many people that led ultimately to the conclusion. At the same time, they have every right to seek to place blame, and so, like everything in life the situation exists in shades of grey.

The consequence of this book has caused a certain level of guilt by proxy for me. An examination of points in my life whereby I did or said or wrote something with only thought for my own feeling and not the feelings of the person on the receiving end. Even if you are "in the right" factually, morally, or just in your own mind, you don't know what chain reaction of events you may have unwittingly sparked.
For a book to have an impact of this kind upon you, to make you consider your own life and psychology, it rises above being "just a story" and I was delighted to see this win the prize. 10/10 for the simple fact it is a book you will continue to think on long after you've closed it.

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