Recommendations by Joanne Matzenbacher unless otherwise noted. Sign up for our It's About Books newsletter! Click here
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is the 2011 Man Booker award winner. As such it is well worth reading just to see what kind literature captures such a prestigious award. While I appreciated Barnes' literary skill and plot line, thinking it a stellar read, Barnes was just a tad too esoteric for me. Let me explain myself.
This is the story of one man in his sixties, Tony, who recounts specific incidents from college years long past. Tony freely admits "what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed." From there the book takes off with pivotal companion characters, friend Adrian and girlfriend Veronica, being fleshed out as Tony remembers them. I italicize that phrase for two reasons. Namely, how could he remember them from any other perspective and secondly, as the book progresses, the reader (and protagonist) must pass judgement on the accuracy of those memories. Tony is, how can I say this gently, engrossed in self. Although not an egotistical bore, he is remarkably clueless and therein sets the stage for the drama of the book. Essentially, Veronica hooks up with Adrian, who eventually commits suicide. The irony of it all it that when Veronica's mother dies she leaves £500 and Adrian's diary to Tony.
Of course Veronica finds the diary and refuses to hand it over despite the fact Tony desperately wants it to validate those unreliable memories mentioned earlier. My mind should have clicked into gear at this point, but it didn't. What has Veronica's mother, whom Tony met only briefly as a young man, to do with the relationship between Adrian and Veronica or his death? What was she doing with his diary? I leave to you, the reader, to pick up where I have left off and figure out the denouement. Regardless of the fact I had to have my book club members 'splain things to me, I recommend the book as one that is exceedingly well-written with plausible characters very worthy of thought or discussion.
For an exceptional book as this is, I can forgive my own oblivious disregard of the written word right in front of my nose.
On another note, there are two movies I rented from Neflix that are both powerful and thought provoking. One, A Handful of Dust set in England in the early 30's and staring Kristin Scott Thomas is based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh and the other, The House of Mirth set in New York in the early 1900s and starring Gillian Anderson, is based on a novel by Edith Wharton. The House of Mirth, filmed in 2000, will always be one of my most favorite movies. A Handful of Dust, filmed in 1988, has been added to that list. Both deal with women (and men) of begone eras who find themselves in situations of their own making where they have no exit strategies. Be forewarned that neither have a pretty ending. Yet I was drawn into these movies, watching helplessly as lives unraveled.
In Mirth, convention, decorum and hypocrisy act as judge and jury for Lily Bart as she is not able to outwit the demands of the social strata in which she is encased. In Dust, Lady Brenda foolishly sets in motion a series of events which nearly destroy her and ultimately condemn her husband to an untimely death sentence as devastating and needless as that of Lily Bart. I suggest seeing both movies. It has always been my belief that watching and reading about others who act out their follies in full view of an audience offer us "voyeurs" concrete lesson plans by which to live.