Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Sense of an Ending ~ Book Reflection: Letter to the Muse, Know today as Vincent

How did I come upon this book I ask myself?  It turns out Julian Barnes was awarded the 2011 Man Booker prize for this small but quietly potent book. But I think by now that is old news. That didn’t matter to me and in fact it did not seem to stir upon my consciousness. Now that I know, I imagine how ecstatic the author must feel. So congratulations to him.

I first saw mention of this book in an email newsletter I subscribe to. I then saw it in another email. I knew that I would like to read it at some point, but I didn’t pursue it at that time. I had finished up the previous audio book I was reading and I was in search of a new one. Since I have a monthly membership for a flat fee, each month I receive one credit toward any audio book and then other audios are discounted. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to listen to. Something I’ve read before? Something new? Hmm. Nothing was speaking to me. And then I looked and there I saw that familiar title: A Sense of an Ending. The story sounded interesting.  The story of youth and how the suicide of a friend from a distant past is revealed, bringing the protagonist back to his schooldays—memory unfolds. It’s not a large book. Four hours and 40 minutes by audio.

I enjoyed listening to the writing. I have a hold request at the library so I can read the book myself. I’m number 164 in the queue. The good news is there are 24 holdable copies across libraries in my county. It will be a little while, not too long though. In the meantime, I downloaded a sample for Kindle with the intention of only reading up until the sample stops. I love seeing the words on the page. How he opened the story and how he recounts a memory, and then continues:

“We live in time—it holds us and moulds us—but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel version.”

And of course there is more. Then he continues his story where it begins for him during his schooldays.

I found myself lulled softly into the story, entering the school, the classroom, and this band of friends.

I listened to this audio slowly, though it could have been listened to in one sitting. I enjoyed the banter between the friends as the protagonist pulled from his memory bank. When I finally reached the end, I felt a small sense of that’s it. That’s how it ends. I don’t often like endings. There was a subtlety to this one. Despite my initial feeling toward the ending, I enjoyed the story so much that a couple of days ago—I finished the book last week—I decided to begin listening to the story again before the book from the library is available. I don’t like recommending books because I know that we all have different tastes, different moods, etc. I can only say that I’m glad I found this book. It’s the journey of past recollections meeting present and it becomes a meditation on memory—death, life, time, choices, regrets—the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Written with acuity and a sense of grace, I appreciate the quiet, loudness of this book.


Vincent said...

I shall order it, Rebb. Thanks for the review. Believe it or not, I have been feeling guilty for not responding to you with the recommendation of a book by Martin Amis. I can’t think of one you would like. His style is very different from that of Julian Barnes, I think: more edgy. He loves to capture low-life, disreputable characters, outrageous inner lives. But he is always very funny, clever, & satirical. Of the novels, Money, The Information and London Fields are my favourites. But I would also recommend The War Against Clich√©, an anthology of his criticism, and his autobiography, Experience.

I did try to read Barnes’ novel Arthur and George once, but found it tedious and never got far.

So I shall do as you have, and download a Kindle sample of A Sense of an Ending, and tell you honestly what I think.

Vincent said...

(a few minutes later) Have skimmed the Kindle sample, and found it to be as flat as Arthur and George. It’s a temperamental antipathy, I’m sure. As a stylist and as a human being, Barnes seems to be the exact opposite of Amis!

Vincent said...

I’ve been quite unfair to Barnes of course in my impulsive judgement. To call him flat is to compare a still wine with a champagne, for Amis invariably fizzes, and I was comparing him with Amis in every sentence. But still Barnes puzzles me. He sounds older and more staid than Amis, and indeed he is older. I am older than both. Dates of birth: Vincent 1942, Barnes 1946, Amis 1949. Barnes writes with a strangely old-man attitude using strangely modern idioms in reminiscing about childhood. Amis though the youngest sees through the eyes of his father (novelist Kingsley Amis) and is endlessly amused and excited by the wreckage of of civilization that we enjoy today.

Often when I have a temperamental antipathy to an author as strong as the one I feel towards Barnes, it changes into its opposite, and I realize I had been holding out against the author until I was ready for him.

As it is I can’t read this book at the moment. I would argue with his every sentence, as if we had been at school together, and he had remembered everything wrong.

Rebb said...

Vincent, No problem at all about the recommendation of a book my Martin Amis. The Information and London Fields both sound interesting. Yes, more edgy—is what it seems. My sense is Amis is more comparable to my brief recollection of what little bits I’ve seen of one of your favorites: A Clockwork Orange.

Funny, yesterday while I was revisiting to my audio, I think I knew that it would be too slow, not enough in your face—not enough bubbles—as I know have the bubble reference.

Barnes may never be your cup of tea. That’s OK. Part of why I’d like to read Amis is that my sense is (as I mentioned before), how he writes and what he writes about is not exactly what I would normally be drawn too. I’m no prude, but if I know there will be too much sex in a work of fiction and murder, I’m not as likely to read it. I did put a hold on London Fields just to see. The Information sounds intriguing, but the library does not have that title. Vincent, old is never a matter of age alone. I know you know this, but just think part of our “age” comes from what we identify with as much as it does with our experiences. I think part of what I like about Barnes’s style is that old man quality that you point out. Second funny thing is there are a few “edgy” things in The Sense of and Ending, but they don’t feel edgy.

That would be great, Vincent, you arguing with every sentence of his book. Ha!

Last thought: It is clear that often times, it all comes down to style—who we are—what our voice sounds like on the page—and other things too. More thinking for sure.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and the book recommendations!