Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tony Messenger - 2011 Shortlist - The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes

Here is a real live advertisement for the paper book, beautiful black bordered paper, neat size that is so easy to hold, almost diary like in its feel and size. Sorry Kindle fans, this is one you really need to have in the old fashioned book style. But is that showing my age?

We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well.

Is this Julian Barnes’ year? This is his fourth Booker Prize Shortlisted novel. He lucked out to Anita Brookner’s “Hotel Du Lac’ in 1984 with “Flaubert’s Parrot”, was shortlisted in 1998 with “England, England” (lost to Ian McEwan’s “Amsterdam”) and again didn’t win the gong in 2005 with “Arthur and George” when John Banville’s “The Sea’ took home the prize.

If you are like me, it is only every ten years or so that you come across a “masterpiece”, well I think 2011 is the year I came across another.  But can I recall the last book that moved me so much?

We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient – it’s not useful – to believe this; it doesn’t help us to get on with our lives; so we ignore it.

There are numerous reviews out there which will give you a high level sketch of the plot of this novel, so there’s not much point in replicating the prĂ©cis here.  Needless to say at 150 pages and with not a single word wasted, this could be knocked over in a single sitting. I took much longer, re-reading passages, stopping and dwelling for sometime, allowing the whole concept of time and memory slowly sink in, rather than be rushed by.

I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However…who said that thing about ‘the littleness of life that art exaggerates’?

A wonderful lament on time, memory and ageing and as I have heard someone else recently say "Julian Barnes’ most accomplished novel to date".

When I got to the last page I immediately wanted to turn back to page 1 and start the journey all over again.

In my opinionated view this is an absolute moral to take home the Prize. I used to believe this was a prize for literature but looking at a few of the recent winners it has become a prize for “good books”. At long last there is a novella that is worthy of the award. Please don’t take this as a criticism of the other shortlisted books, most are great reads, they’re just not stand outs. 

Disclaimer. I am in my late 40’s, male, went to a boys only school – yes I share a lot in common with the Tony is this book? Add to that the fact that I have been a fan of Julian Barnes for years, and I’m going to give you a slightly biased view of this novel. Not all the judging panel fit my demographic (if any!!) so I could well be disappointed with the announcement of the winner. Having said that, I’m going to leave you with a few of Barnes’ previously shortlisted opening lines? 

Six North Africans were playing boule beneath Flaubert’s statue. ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’

‘What was your first memory?’ someone would ask. And she would reply, ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘England, England’

A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see. ‘Arthur & George’

Ahhh!! What memories they bring back….or am I remembering something that didn’t really happen?

Cross posted to my blog.


  1. Great review, Tony. I've read so many excellent reviews of this book. I use my local library much more than the bookstore, except for "special" books. I think this is one I will actually buy.

  2. OK - I haven't gotten to any of the Julian Barnes yet - which do you suggest I start with? This one?

  3. In my opinion this is the best of his, followed by "England, England", "Flaubert's Parrot" and then "Arthur & George" (which does have a few flaws). Their Englishness and maleness may not appeal to all though.

  4. wow, glad you loved it so much! I can't wait to read it.