Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2011 - The Sense of an Ending

A friend wrote recently on Facebook that when you lose someone you love there is no such thing as ’closure’, ‘only days when the loss doesn’t hit you like a truck’. I thought of this quite a bit as I read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. The narrator Tony Webster, looking back over his long life, ponders whether he has made the most of it. He’s a peaceable man (or so he says) and he likes things settled, tidy. He wants this so-called closure but it evades him:
Had my life increased, or merely added to itself? … There had been addition - and subtraction – in my life, but how much multiplication? And this gave me a sense of unease, of unrest. (p88)
When his ‘chippy, jealous and malign’ younger self (p97) comes back to shock his older peaceable self that ‘finds comfort in his own doggedness‘ (p89) his unrest escalates. He had thought himself safe from follies melted away by the frailties of memory because as we age ‘the witnesses to our lives decrease, and with them our essential corroboration’. (p98)

This made me think about the selves we create on Facebook, GoodReads, Twitter and yes, on blogs like this one: these digital selves are a kind of testimony about who we are. The longer we engage in them with people that we actually know, the more we recognise that these digital selves are not always corroborated by face-to-face contact. Digital selves are edited, filtered according to some view of the self not necessarily shared by others, and these selves are plastic – not in the sense of fake (or not usually, not with my friends) but in the sense of malleable.

Tony’s view of himself is that he’s a more-or-less reasonable sort of fellow. He looks back wryly at his adolescent self when he thought (like most of us) that he and his friends were cool observers of the world and comfortable with their own superiority. Now he realises that by the laws of mathematics and philosophy most people are average and so is he. He might even be complacent about this except that the malleable self (and some of the toys of the digital age such as email and Google) startle him into realising that actually he was not only culpably vindictive as a young man but that he’s capable now of revenge, spite and harassment to an extent which imperils his fond relationship with his only confidante, his ex-wife Margaret. He uses those digital toys (and his own doggedness) to do some rather nasty things!

To read the rest of my review, please visit my ANZ LitLovers blog.
I read and blogged this Booker Prize winner on September 12th 2012.
Cross-posted at GoodReads.
Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers

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