Januarys book was a Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
A short book edged in black promising to be about a group of boys navigating sixth form, girls and exams. It turned out to be about a retired man looking back on his life
We all thought how unsatisfied Tony, the lead character, was with his life although he was at pains to show that he wasn’t even to himself. He kept referring to how his daughter was fine and how he was still friends with his ex-wife and could go on holiday with her if he wanted to. It was though he was trying to reassure himself. There is a brilliant passage in the book about how being a realist turns out being safe and how time turns all well thought out decisions in to wobbly ones at best (sorry massively paraphrasing). The reader really got the impression that he thought he had lived a good life but now looking back he was slowly realising that he hadn’t and was loathe to admit it.
We also discussed whether he couldn’t live the present life he had because he was full of regret as to the few chances he didn’t take or let slip through his fingers. The irony being that he seemed to have a really lovely ex-wife who (despite cheating on him – I know really sounds lovely doesn’t she!) was still there for him and very much a part of his life.
I loved the history element of the book, and no I don’t mean Henry the 8th and his wives. The sections of the book where Tony is at school and the class are discussing what history is. There were a few really good lines in these parts – ‘History is the lies of the victors’ and this in some way really linked in to the book as all we were getting were Tony’s version of events. I also loved the way the book illustrated that one persons view point and memory is so very different from another’s. I thought this was really well illustrated by the letter Tony wrote to Adrian. Originally it is mentioned by Tony almost in passing yet when you actually read the real thing it’s shocking to see how different it is. It made you question whether Tony really wasn’t bothered about Veronica breaking up with him as he made out, in fact it made you question everything you had previously read. We talked about this a lot and how one persons actions can have such a huge consequence for another (butterfly effect?) without the first person ever realising it.
The book then sort of petered out as he became obsessed with sitting in the pub trying to see the boy again. It did show how little Tony had going on in his life and his obsessive personality. This part kind of mirrored his earlier life when he became slightly obsessed with Adrian. I use obsessive in a very loose sense of the word as he wasn’t a stalker or anything like that and he did downplay his attachment to Adrian, saying they all grew apart as they were so busy getting on with life. After reading the letter though was this true? We questioned why was he so fixated with the past and obtaining Adrians diary? Was it because life at that time was full of promise in stark contrast to the life he had now? Was it because although he didn’t want Veronica he didn’t want Adrian to have her. Or was he jealous that Veronica had Adrian at a time when he was ‘losing’ him? Was he so interested as he had nothing in his life at present to do other than to go over history again and again?
We commented on how it was funny the odd things you remember – Veronicas mother making him the eggs for breakfast. We also talked about Veronicas mother – seemed like she didn’t fit in with the family and perhaps didn’t like her daughter however given such a snap shot from an already unreliable source it is hard to judge.
I and a few other people loved the way the book was written – there were a few additions to go in my book of quotes. I also thought he captured a youths mind brilliantly and then made the change from young mind to old.
I loved the way Barnes captured 4 young lads spouting quotes to each other thinking they were the bees knees. I think this part of the book more than anything got us talking as virtually everyone was convinced the boys were attending either boarding or private school. One of us wasn’t (who interestingly enough grew up in America so went through a different schooling). The book didn’t specifically state which school they went to (and even said sixth form on the cover) however we were all convinced by the quotes they used and the fact they referred to their teachers as masters that they were not just at any old school. Given the period the book was set in when Grammar schools were still in existence and kids were schooled either to go to University or leave at 16 and get a job. These boys most definitely were not expected to go work in a factory with their dad and go watch the match every Saturday. Sorry to be stereotypical.
We obviously then had a lot to talk about so why exactly did we not like it? There were no redeeming characters, you were not pulling for anyone to come through. The storey on its own is very boring and doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or resolve anything. A lot of parts were also still misunderstood by the group – why did the mother give him the money? Why was his ex-wife saying he was on his own? Why was it called sense of an ending???
Overall we seemed to like the writing and the fact that it got us talking so much. In fact a few people gave it a higher score because of how much we discussed it. Story and characters though let it down badly. We gave it a broad range of scores but overall it totalled 5.5.
Next book Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn