Friday, 18 October 2013

September 2013 - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

This book follows Tony Webster from his school days through to retirement. It explores the idea of memory and it’s imperfections when Tony’s life and perception of events is turned around by the arrival of a lawyers letter that throws up surprises.
Overall most of the members were unsure if they liked the book, they found the writing often beautiful and the central theme of memory to be interesting and well explored, however found the main character irritating and difficult to like and that it was a bit repetitive and that they felt the author was showing off. It was discussed that this was a literary book and it was felt that this was the reason many members found it lacked storytelling and many found it a “sad story” and a “passionless book”.

Many members found the narrator to be dull and that he showed a lack of emotion and they would have liked him to change in some way through the course of the book. He showed denial around the main incident in the book and seemed to have created his own history, which he had to confront and reflect on towards the end of the book. As this was a single narrative many felt that the other characters were sketchy and that they were not in the book enough to get to understand them properly. The members found Veronica to be complex but humourless and that the hatred she felt towards Tony was not explained. She was meant to be aloof and many found that this took away from her character. It was felt that Adrian was well drawn but again his role was more as a device for the narrator’s story to unfold around.

We spent very little time discussing the plot as it was felt that the book was built around the themes not the story. The main theme being memory and how this can be distorted, this rang a bell with many members and they felt that it had been very well done. Another theme that ran through the book linked in with the theme of memory was the idea of what is history. These were discussed during their school days in a somewhat pretentious way and the idea about evidence and interpretation wove through the book. This led to a discussion on the nature of perception and facebook. We also discussed the theme of suicide at some length and the way that the first suicide was felt to be weird and received with a lack of empathy by the school boys and the idea of it being a “blaze of glory” was a bit uncomfortable. It was felt that overall this theme was not well developed and was shown as being more about intellectual reasons and philosophy which didn’t hold true through the book.

There were mixed views of the writers style. Overall it was felt to be too factual and dry and therefore not very moving, some didn’t finish the book as didn’t feel inclined to care. The letters were seen as a good device which grabbed the reader however the writer style was lacking in peaks and troughs and this meant that the book didn’t grab many of the members. It was felt that the book evocated the sense of the period it was set in. Some members would read another short book by this author but not many would bother with a longer one.

The ending was shocking but because it was dealt with in such a factual manner many felt that they had missed something and had to check back to make sure they had understood. Some felt that they weren’t sure they got the ending either, while understanding it they didn’t understand why veronica kept saying to him "you still don't get it". There were felt to be too many questions left hanging that people just didn’t care enough about. There was manly relief at it being tied up and done and there was a general apathy towards the book.

There were 16 members who gave a score and the average was 4.6 out of 10 with the highest being 8 and the lowest 0

Write up by Vicki R

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