The Sense of an Ending – Barnes Revisted.

Sense-001Photograph I took of the book with the battered dustjacket

So I’m going through something of a re-reading phase. Today I reread Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending instead of packing for a trip that I have to take to Delhi (I still haven’t started packing; I am lolling on the bed and writing this post and I have thrown all caution to the wind, and it’s after two in the night, mind you – also, I have to take a train tomorrow but who says one has to abandon book-blogging for that reason?)

The library sent in this book, with the dust-jacket a little battered – at first, I was annoyed, I don’t like books treated like garbage. But throughout this evening, I turned its pages and remembered the mundane but magical worlds of Tony Webster and Adrian Finn and the ever-intriguing Veronica. I felt excited that this book has changed hands so many times!

The book is short one, in terms of pages – one hundred and fifty only. But the story, the characters, and Barnes’ treatment of the plot will make it seem like you’ve travelled throughout Webster’s childhood, like you know Alex, Colin and most importantly, Adrian very intimately. You will resent Veronica Mary Ford’s existence, in the beginning. Time and again, you will wonder if/why Tony loved her, why he met her family and why he loved seeing her dancing in his dorm-room. And in the end, you might reconsider your views about her.

The novel talks is prosaic about how we choose to interpret our memories the way it suits us. And how our fickle memories leave us with vast histories that we ourselves might have created for ourselves.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.”

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

The story is told to us by Tony Webster himself and so it may be possible that he manipulates facts to his advantage – the reader will sigh at his expressions, descriptions and delineations. Webster may or may not be an unreliable narrator but that is totally up to the reader to decide. The beauty of this novel is that everything is up to the reader: for instance, I loved Adrian Finn even after I read and put away the book, even after I read the ending; I wished to sympathize with Veronica but I couldn’t (perhaps I thought I was a little like her?); I genuinely waited for Anne to appear somewhere in the course of the book, she didn’t; I wished Margaret wasn’t right but she was all along; despite Tony’s self-righteousness, I refuse to be cross with him even as the ending approached – people make mistakes, things go horribly wrong, sometimes even ironically wrong, any of this could hardly be poor old Tony Webster’s fault.

The Remains of the Day

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(Photograph I instagrammed – shallow, I know – the evening the book arrived. That’s my midnight snack)

I won’t lie – I started this book only because I wanted to watch the movie. It’s been sitting on the external hard disk for so long and I wanted to know if I should keep it, or delete it to make space for other movies. I have a rule – I don’t watch movie adaptations before I’ve read the book. And now that I’ve read Ishiguro’s masterpiece, I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable watching the film (To hell with the drama! I’ll watch it, anyway). The book was great. And great is an understatement.

There are two things  – a book with an unrequited love story, and a Byronic hero: world-weary, emotionally-conflicted, charismatic – that make me go weak in the knees. The Remains of the Day gave me both. The story is about Stevens, a butler of Darlington Hall, who embarks on a vacation. This holiday is his first time away from Darlington Hall in several years and the protagonist-narrator cannot but go back repeatedly to anecdotes about his time there. He is a principled man, dutiful and has achieved a certain amount of ‘dignity’ that his profession demands. It is also this very duty that has estranged him of his love for Miss Kenton. The journey from Darlington Hall to Weymouth is his journey from his present to his past – from the consequences to the sacrifices he made at a time when history was going through enormous changes and he believed that his service, his employer needed more attention than his own life and matters of the heart.

I was told that the book would be slow. Mostly because of how elaborate the prose is. But it isn’t. It is beautiful. Almost like someone’s life unfolding in a quick motion, right before your own eyes.

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