I REMEMBER, IN no particular order:
– a shiny inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torch beams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.
With these opening lines The sense of an ending by Julian Barnes had got my interest right away. This novella starts with the narrator recounting some random memories of his life. The moment you start reading the novel you get a feeling that you cannot completely rely on the narrator’s memory.
“I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty If I cant be sure of the actual events any more, I can atleast be true to the the impressions those fact left. That’s the best I can manage.”
You know by now what the narrator is putting forward is reminisces from his life, long passed. He travels back in time when he was in school and how they, a group of close knit three friends embrace a fourth one thus introducing us to Adrian Finn. They were ‘book-hungry, sex hungry, meritocratic, anarchist’. It is during this time that one of there classmate commits suicide and Adrian proposes the theory of Eros and Thanatos as rumors had it that Robson hanged himself as he got his girlfriend pregnant. His suicide is criticized for being ‘unphilosphical, self indulgent and inartistic’.
Tony finds his girlfriend in a girl named Veronica, who he tries hard to impress by hiding his soundtracks that might be objectionable to her as he puts it “straining to describe a character I hope to grow into’, turning his watch so that the time is no longer on the inside thus foreboding something of a ritual that the four friends followed.
It is during this period that Veronica takes him to meet her family, which apart from ‘the mother’ seemed to be critical of him or so the memory of narrator’s believe. He likes her mother though complimenting her for the delicious dinner and wishing he’d talked to her more. Soon after he arranges his 3 friends Alex, Colin and Adrian to meet Veronica. After the meeting they break up and Veronica’s attempt to make up with sex doesn’t help either. Later we know that Adrian asks for tony’s permission in order to go out with Veronica. After an initial jolly its-fine-by-me postcard he writes them a elaborate letter which he conveniently summarizes in two sentences. The first chapter ends with Adrian’s suicide, Tony’s marriage to Margaret and later his divorce. By the ending of the first chapter Tony is retired and living a peaceful life something he claimed he always wanted.
A white envelope arrives in his otherwise ordinary and peaceful life. A ‘legacy’ of 500 dollars from Veronica’s mother and Adrian’s diary. A diary still in possession of Veronica. From that moment on we see Tony questioning his own life, quizzing the authenticity of his own memories on which he had so confidently lived his life.
Tony as a character is an ordinary man who errs but what pisses me is his inability to present facts the way they are. He conveniently does away with memories which might show him in a poor light. He tends to do that in real life too not just in his brain. The fact that he hides from his wife that part about Veronica. Well he forgets the time when Veronica dances or any good time spent with Veronica., as if in the first chapter he is on to prove that his relationship with her wasn’t satisfactory. Even though he is the one who refuses to give Veronica any assurance about their future together and behaves like a jerk in the conversation that happened between them after the sex episode.
His confessions come effortlessly in the second chapter
The odder part was that it was easy to give this version of my history because that what I’d been telling myself anyway. I viewed my time with veronica as a failure her contempt, my humiliation-and expunged it from my record.
What he remembers though after all these years is Veronica asking her brother Jack,
‘’he will do, wont he?” and sulks over it all his life. What seemed like a sibling banter is taken for a judgment and solicitation by his egoist self. Well wasn’t he doing the same when his friend’s opinion of Veronica becomes imperative? It is only towards the end of the book he realizes that he had in fact been attracted to Veronica after being pestering the reader about how he was only attracted to Anne and Margeret. That must have been his Eureka moment. I can only Thank God for it.
Another flawed character Adrian, makes sure his suicide is taken as an act of heroism as he writes down a letter with an attached QED explaining the philosophical reason behind his death. It’s however an attempt on his part to not let his suicide too, like Robson’s, be taken as an ordinary case of Eros and Thanatos . He chooses to glorify his own motive of suicide, but the truth still remains. His suicide is ‘unphilosophical, self indulgent and inartistic’. Or as Alex puts “…a fucking terrible waste.”
What turned me on:
The Narrative technique. Tony’s art of choosing and eliminating facts( it is after all a part of his moral fiber and crucial for the progress of the novel). Doing away with certain characters and incidences as they are “not part of the story”.
In the second chapter even after there are not many changes in the character of Tony the author successfully make-believe us that he is old. Still indecisive, insensitive, peaceable and judgmental but old.
The mystery in the novel isn’t grand but the way the novel puts it forward is commendable.
What put me off:
“ You just don’t get it…You never did and you never will.”
Yes sweetie he never did and never will, so tell him already! Will you? And save us from his as- slow- as- a- dead- snail inquest.