Friday, January 2, 2015

"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I picked up a second-hand copy at the Pop Up Bookshop in Adelaide in the last year or so. I haven't read any books by this author before, but he's written quite a few, and it seems like several of them have been shortlisted for the Booker prize over the years. After reading "The Sense of an Ending" I am definitely keen to read some of his other novels.

The book starts out with a group of 4 teenage boys, obsessed with philosophising and pretending they are cool in a geeky way. They are just starting to experience girls and sex and determined to stay friends for ever despite heading their separate ways for college once school finishes. The book soon skips forward to one of the boys, Tony Webster, as a 60-year old man, peacefully and uneventfully going through life as a divorced man, but living a life that doesn't seem to have amounted to anything much. Suddenly he receives an unexpected letter from a lawyer saying that the mother of an ex-girlfriend from his college days has died and left him 500 pounds and the diary of one of his three old friends who had committed suicide almost 40 years before. This strange bequest leads to the uncovering of the past and the unraveling of Tony's memories of that time.

While the topic of this book might seem a little under-whelming, it was very skilfully written, and really hooked me in. To me this book beautifully illustrates the plasticity of the mind, what we remember, what we forget, how we can manipulate our own memories subconsciously or consciously to build our own life history. We go through our individual lives, creating memories, writing the story of our life as we see it, repeating scenes over and over in our heads, but over time we remember things differently, selectively, sometimes  blocking out scenes, other times convincing yourself you experienced something you only heard of or saw in a photo, and also that just as surprisingly, random snatches of memories can come flooding back that you have not thought of since the time the event took place, unbidden or sometimes triggered by something. As the story unfolds, so too does Tony Webster's memories, leaving you constantly guessing the truth of what really happened to his friend right up until the final pages.

This book has lots of complex thought-provoking deep ideas hidden in it, but it reads like a page-turning mystery. It's a fairly short book (150 pages), but very powerful and I recommend reading it!  
Started Reading: 2nd January 2015
Finished: 3rd January 2015
My score: 9/10

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