TITLE: THE SENSE OF AN ENDING
AUTHOR: JULIAN BARNES
Details: Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2011
Tony Webster and his friends Colin and Alex form a tight clique during their final year of secondary school and don’t think there’s room for anybody else. But new pupil Adrian fits right in, without ever actively trying to befriend them. Typical teenagers and products of the 60’s the four boys are sex-hungry, philosophical, well-read, convinced that they will succeed in changing the world where their parents failed and sure that their friendship will last forever.
Forty years later Tony has retired and finds himself reflecting on his life. He didn’t change the world or achieve anything remarkable. In fact he led an unremarkable, quiet life consisting of a career that didn’t set the world on fire, a single marriage and a calm and friendly divorce. He may not have achieved anything special, but neither did he ever harm anybody, or so he likes to believe.
An unexpected and mysterious bequest from a person he hasn’t seen or even thought about in 40 years leads Tony to reconsider his memories and the way he has defined his past and himself. Suddenly what he always thought to be true about himself and the people around him isn’t so clear cut anymore. The apparently innocent and easy to explain actions during his student years suddenly take on a different meaning. And it is quite possible that he has drawn wrong conclusions about people, their motives and the outcomes of actions.
As he revisits his past and his memories he tries to discover if and where his recollections are wrong only to discover that his wrong assumptions in the past result in wrong conclusions in his present.
This is a book about memories and how about how what we remember isn’t necessarily true. Tony, the narrator keeps on running into the fact that the things he remembers don’t correspond with truths held by others and as such are unreliable. This is expressed in various statements and thoughts about the past and the way in which we approach our memories at various stages during our lives, such as:
“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age; when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”
“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.”
“Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty as to what you are or have been.”
This is a beautifully written book. It is also quite deceptive. What at first appears to be a rather simple story turns out to be a deep, almost philosophical, study of memory as well as a forensic investigation of the past.
Although rather short, there is a lot to this book. This is not a book to read quickly, or a story that will be easily forgotten. I know that I will be thinking, not so much about the story itself but about memory and in how far I can trust my own, for a long time yet.