Endings

Exhibit 1.7.5

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

 

 

A book written in decaf Earl Grey–and I mean that in a nice way and as a vague insult to this book’s drowningly milquetoast* Britishness–Barnes’s novel is a slight but chilling history of the end of a relationship some 40 years before the novel’s present action. Or maybe that’s not quite right. The present action is really only the second half of the novel, the bulk of the narrator’s life retroactively made summary in this telling, but one could just as easily say it’s a book of present and future, action and consequence, rather than mystery and unraveling. Ultimately, I suppose, it’s both which is why it’s far more compelling than it has any right to be.

It’s that sense of what’s lost not to cruelty but time that does it. We’re never stilled so we’re never sure if which pieces we want put back together and which we want swept under the rug. Which are nostalgia and which are need. Which were important and which only seem important due to some emotional compound interest. Because there are successes and there are failures here and one doesn’t erase the other, and neither does apology. And certainly Barnes is very much apologetic all the way through, the telling of our narrator’s life done with the self-deprecation of someone who has seen the present, and the plot–despite some details I’ll spare as they genuinely shocked me–mostly confined to a near-elderly man’s attempts to figure something out he missed 40 years before and his inability to understand what any of it should mean to him after a long, bland life.

(The book might be at its best when it hints at all the other stories that might have been told about our man, yet how this one, despite his barely being on the periphery of it, is the one that matters most, perhaps because he was outside it. The book might be at its worst in its occasional rueful boomer wankery about how things have changed).

All and all, it doesn’t amount to much in summary, but in creating a life that’s veered from regrettable to shruggable, Barnes has made something rather beautiful. O, it’s weak tea all right, but that’s sort of the point. Most lives are, the book suggests, but their absence of profundity doesn’t make them tragic and their tragedies don’t make them profound.

This book often is. When it was over, I had this strange urge to reach out to people I hadn’t spoken to in a long time to reconnect and say, “Sorry about all this being alive. Let’s do better than that. How are you?”

But the point, I suppose, is that you can’t. And of course I didn’t.

*Oddly, this word is a relatively late American addition to the language. I’ll let it stand.
Comment / Posted in 2013, Endings, Fiction