Re: Sense of and Ending - Julian Barnes
Posted by guillermo maynez on 13/2/2012, 13:16:47, in reply to "Re: Sense of and Ending - Julian Barnes"
Well, I did like the novel. This is Barnes's fourth book I've read, and I've enjoyed them all: "Flaubert's Parrot", "A History of the World in 10 & 1/2 Chapters", and "Arthur and George". Very different books, indeed, and also different from "The Sense of an Ending". I see that more than one among us was reminded of "The Sea", for all their variations in story and style. Less than that, but I was also reminded of "The Bad Girl", and Sandor Marai's "Embers". Have you noticed, as I have, that in most of contemporary fiction it is hard to find a really likable character? It is filled with melancholia, remorse, dark sexual secrets, abuse, betrayal, etc. I'm not regretting this, simply recording it from my own experience. Compare this with the recently read Dickens: although horrible things happen in his novels, and there are usually very dark secrets as background to the story, he has a way to relate them that doesn't sound as depressing or hopeless... I don't know, it's just an impression I've been getting from readings of recent years. |
Now, turning to our book, I also think it was very cleverly built, bit by bit and hint by hint. Steven and Sterling have, as always, provided close readings, overlooked incidents and hidden clues. Tony is certainly an unreliable narrator, a man who seems to be, in Pink Floyd's words, "comfortably numb": he's OK with everything and everybody, gets along well with his cuckolding wife (I'm not deploring it, simply noticing it) and daughter, had a comfortable job with a comfortable retirement, and spends his time in a mild and useful pro-bono occupation. What is terrible in his life is, we deduct from his narration, not to blame on him. He fell in love with a domineering Alpha-female, a girl I wouldn't have dated twice. Then he met the mother-in-law from hell and ran away (and, of course, kept a crush on Veronica). It was utterly predictable that, once she got to meet Adrian, she would fall for him, but it is only natural that, when you have a girlfriend, you want your pals to meet her (well, unless she is not presentable). And so it happened, and so Adrian met Sarah, and so Sarah, being the great mother she seems to be, goes to bed with Adrian.
Up to here, it's just gossip. Heavy one, when one goes to bed with the girlfriend's mother, but gossip. The tragedy is twofold: to learn about the retarded man, and to read his letter again, as you guys say, being forced to completely reshape his own image. I also hope there's no skeleton in some closet which forces me to rethink my self. More later.
: Excellent remarks, Sterling! You obviously read the
: novel very closely and picked up some points I
: overlooked. My follow-up comments are below.
: In Chapter One, he describes his letter to Adrian and
: Veronica: "As far as I can remember [!] , I told
: him pretty much what I thought of their joint moral
: scruples." Pretty mild, right? What a shock for
: him (and for the reader) when we get an opportunity to
: read the actual letter.
: I think adolescents are, in general, more blunt in
: their expressions and correspondingly more
: thick-skinned than mature adults. We would probably
: all be dismayed by how insensitive we were at that
: age. Tony, though, was still way out of line.
: Anthony + Veronica + Adrian X Sarah = baby
: In his equation Adrian is simply expressing a chain of
: relationship, not implying any blame on Tony (or
: Veronica, for that matter). Most people don't blame a
: failed relationship on the person who introduced them
: to the person who introduced them... Yet Veronica
: lashes out viciously at Tony as though this were all
: his fault. I suppose she is, in part, transferring her
: own feelings of guilt to the next person down the
: In the morning when the others are out, Sarah,
: Veronica's mother, does indeed make a pass at Tony.
: He is too innocent to recognize it. It doesn't seem
: to occur to him that an older woman could find him
: This kind of goes along with a comment that I had
: flagged to the effect that "in the 60s most of us
: were still living in the 50s." Nowadays the media
: promote the idea of mature women as sex objects, but
: back in the June Cleaver days your friend's mother was
: as asexual as your own mother.
: I don't know why the others are all out.
: It would have to have been Sarah's doing. She probably
: concocted a story for her family about wanting to
: screen this young man but told Veronica to say it was
: her own idea. Whether the family believed her at this
: point was questionable.
: Tony wrote in his vicious letter: "Even her own
: mother warned me against her. If I were you, I'd
: check things out with Mum…Of course, you'll have to do
: this behind Veronica's back." Considering what
: Veronica eventually learned about Adrian, she no doubt
: interpreted this as encouraging an affair between
: Adrian and her mother. Very likely, she believes that
: Tony did have sex with her mother that morning.
: Interesting point. Even if Veronica didn't assume
: anything happened between Tony and Sarah, she still
: has evidence here to construct a conspiracy theory.
: Mum seems to have been quite the tart. After her
: husband's death, she moved to London and "took in
: lodgers" even though she did not need the rent
: I missed this one. Yet another clue laid in front of
: us by the author.
: Sarah sent the £500 as a kind of thank you for
: introducing her to Adrian. This seems about the
: average amount of a small bequest of gratitude.
: Although she claims that she is "not sure of
: [her] own motives," she intended Tony to have
: Adrian's diary, which would explain the situation.
: I'm still unclear on Sarah's motives. Everything
: depends on what the diary says that we never see.
: She's kept it now for about 40 years, never contacting
: Tony and presumably aware that Veronica hasn't either.
: Does she assume Tony knows about the baby? If not, she
: would have to realize that, far from being a
: "thank you," her bequest would come as a
: huge shock to Tony. So perhaps there are passages in
: the diary that are very generous towards Tony, and
: that's why vicious Veronica keeps it to herself. In
: which case Tony is having to turn loose of the
: memories out of which he selectively created a past
: and replace them with memories edited by Veronica.
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