Friday, November 11, 2011

The Unreliable Narrator

Why did I think Julian Barnes was a difficult read? I don't remember much about “Flaubert's Parrot”, but I seem to remember that I struggled to get through it. So I approached his latest book The Sense of an Ending with some trepidation. But it had just won the Booker prize and was only 176 pages long, so I decided to try him again.

I could have read this book in one big gulp. The first section is a coming of age story, as Tony Webster recounts his memories of his high school and college days – his youthful friendships and his first romance - “In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives.”

In the second section an unexpected letter causes sixty-something Tony to look back on his life and re-examine his memories - “we live with such easy assumptions, don't we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time”. Sorry to keep quoting, but Barnes puts things so succinctly that there's no point in paraphrasing. Tony struggles to unravel the mystery that the letter presents, and in the process he must deal with his own delusions and guilt. 
This is a book about how our memories shape us and how they deceive us, how our emotions color our interpretations of events. Barnes does a masterful job of creating a character who is forced to spin his memories over and over before they finally show him the truth.

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