Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize winning novella, The Sense of an Ending, was my reading pleasure from this past weekend. It's been a bit since I read a novel (or novella in this case), and certainly some time since I tore through a book cover-to-cover in a single weekend.

In some ways, a book like this is my favorite type of book. I hardly know how to describe this type of book that I enjoy so much other than to say it's the type of book that somehow manages to be incredibly interesting to read while having hardly any real plot at all. For me my best description here is a book that is so enjoyable, yet you know would make a horrible film.

Books I have enjoyed that have fallen into this category that quickly come to mind are books like Ian McEwan's Atonement, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Kazou Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

In the book The Sense of an Ending the author writes in an interesting voice, a voice that wants you to disassociate it from being a novel including lines like: “This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature."

The narrator Tony Webster tells this story first by telling us about a period of time in his childhood amongst a core group of four friends who's lives diverge as they head off to university. A series of events that occur during that time are then revisited as Tony is in retirement and he revisits his past.

The central thought of this book to me is captured in an early quote that is referenced a few times in the book, which is: “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

It's interesting to me, because on a personal level this quote and the thoughts presented in this book have stuck with me past my reading. The way we look at our life does have a tendency to be in the form of narrative and certain key messages and tracks that play in our mind about the past, but these memories are imperfect, and the documentaiton behind our own past and the past of others is often limited by our memories and the documentation that get's left behind.

I very much enjoyed this book, it far exceeded my expectations. It's a wonderfully thought provoking and well crafted story.

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