Tuesday, 12 January 2021

The Sense of an Ending

  

Oh, I really liked this one:

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting, The Sense of an Ending has the psychological and emotional depth and sophistication of Henry James at his best, and is a stunning achievement in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.
 
This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world. 

The blurb doesn't really do it justice. 

I was a bit concerned when it started that it was another upper-middle-class Britlit novel, like The Witches' Tree. I've solidly decided that genre isn't for me.

Thankfully, it was more akin to Now and Then by William Corlett, which is one of the most heartrendingly honest examples of British literature I've read. To my mind, it really didn't get the recognition it deserved.

This is a similar flavour, but did get the recognition.

Both focus on public school boys looking back as adults. The privileged end of the British class spectrum, but it doesn't turn their class into a caricature. People talk about 'honesty' in writing and it can start to sound like a literary buzzword. But it does exist, and you know it when you read it. This has it in spades. 

It's also exceedingly short, at around four-and-a-half hours of audio.

Funnily enough, I picked up The Witches' Tree looking for a little West Country nostalgia, and finding none. Whereas this was dripping with it: Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Severn Bore. Also, a little blast from my school-day past with the term 'get off with,' referring to kissing, or making out with, someone. Does anyone still say that nowadays? 'Did you get off with him?' 

There were so many lovely quotes, so here's a few. This first one is not dissimilar to the response I think my mum gave when I asked her about the sixties. That the sixties was something that happened in London, rather than rural farming communities.
 

If you'll excuse a brief history lesson, most people didn't experience the sixties until the seventies, which meant logically that most people in the sixties were still experiencing the fifties. Or, in my case, bits of both decades side by side.

*

History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.

*

When we are young and sensitive, we are also at our most hurtful; whereas when the blood begins to slow, when we feel less sharply, when we are more armoured and have learnt how to bear hurt, we tread more carefully. 

*

Also, when you are young, you think you can predict the likely pains and bleaknesses that age might bring. You imagine yourself being lonely, divorced, widowed; children growing away from you, friends dying. You imagine the loss of status, the loss of desire – and desirability. You may go further and consider your own approaching death, which, despite what company you may muster, can only be faced alone. But all this is looking ahead. What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from the future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. 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. Even if you have assiduously kept records – in words, sound, pictures – you may find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping. What was the line Adrian used to quote? 'History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.'

*

The time-deniers say: forty's nothing, at fifty you're in your prime, sixty's the new forty, and so on. I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory.

 

That last one is something that plays on my mind a lot: the relationship between time and memory. I first discovered an article on the Aboriginal concept of time years ago, when writing Lucid, and thought it made a lot of sense. Rather than being linear, the things you remember most clearly are the things that are closest to you in time. Something you did twenty years ago might have a greater influence on your life than a hundred boring, mundane things you did yesterday.

Makes a lot of sense.

Anyway. 

I really liked this book. 

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