After the criminal reality of Lolita, I happily moved on to the tortured memories of The Sense of an Ending. This was less of a conscious choice than a result of the fact that it finally became available at the library. I think I’d had this on hold since it won the Booker.
I find it extremely appropriate that this book has two very different covers. I read the one on the right, but I think the one with the dandelion seeds blowing in the wind is much more appropriate for this story about the passage of time and the nature of memory.
While there is a plot that sets the whole thing in motion, the book is mostly about the stories, or rather histories, that we construct in our minds, about ourselves and others. Reading this on the heels of We Are Animals, which also shows how much our perspective is framed by who we are at the time, I found myself pondering how I present my past to others (and even to myself) long after I had put the book down.
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.
This type of introspective work isn’t normally something that would appeal to me, but I devoured it almost in one sitting. Of course, given the length of the book, that wasn’t particularly difficult, but To the Lighthouse was about the same length and that seemed to stop time (and not in a good way).
Maybe I was more sensitive to the issue of memory because my latest home project has involved dismantling my photo albums and scanning and labeling all my old photos. As such, I have been feeling quite nostalgic of late as well as questioning some of my past decision-making. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
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.
Although this wasn’t one of the top vote-getters in my original poll, I’m very happy I put it on the challenge list. I’m almost always interested in reading Booker Prize winners and, more importantly, Julian Barnes is one of Aaron’s favorite authors. And, no, the irony of reading this book based on the recommendation of a friend from high school is not lost on me.
While I know this book might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the final reveal is a bit much, it is definitely something I would recommend, but more for people in their late 30s and older than younger readers.