Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

from here
The end of the year seems the right time for nostalgia, and Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending nestles onto my reading list alongside Black Swan Green, Mary, and The Zeroes.

Like Black Swan Green and The Zeroes, we follow Tony, our first person narrator, through recollections of his adolescence, and then we return to him in adulthood. As a part of his midlife crisis, he tries to figure out what happened back then, why he and his closest friends drifted apart, and why (later) one of his friends killed himself.

The Sense of an Ending is a philosophical tract wrapped in a murder mystery. I should love it. I want very badly to love it because of the themes it treats, and because of the how deftly Barnes unravels the story; I am a sucker for layering.

Does it qualify as irony that I love everything except the ending? It's a little too much like real life.

I read all of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories in one long run when I was in the 8th or 9th grade. The impression I was left with was this: I am probably not as smart as Sherlock Holmes, but neither was Doctor Watson.

I was left disinterested when Holmes would reveal some trivial detail that Watson had overlooked that was, always, the key to cracking the case. My narrator, my "eyes on the ground," simply wasn't good enough at his job to allow me to keep guessing along with the master sleuth. Because of the limitations of my narrator, I'm denied the chance to really go head-to-head with the mystery.

And that's how I feel about Barnes' book. The mystery could be unravelled in a single paragraph, if anyone would talk to Tony, if he could ask the right questions with any level of empathy. But Tony is too wrapped up in Tony, too committed to the grandness of his friend's suicide.

Tony never considers that the suicide made perfect sense to the people who were around his friend at the end of his life, and he never considers that he was simply too unimportant to be informed. Which is so much like real life that I don't really want to read about it in fiction.

Book 47 of my book-a-week challenge.

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