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The Vagaries of Memory   2 comments

Julian Barnes’s The Sense of An Ending succintly examines the lackluster
life of Tony Webster, an uninspiring British gentleman deficient in confidence
and family background. Tony narrates the story of his very ordinary life from his
school days to his retirement; but don’t worry, it’s not as tedious as it sounds.
Whole elements, from marriage to parenting to divorce, are simply allotted a
passing mention. Although, intrigue is found, as contradictory as this may seem,
in the mundane when Tony’s conventional past rear-ends his present day exist-
ence forcing him to scrutinize incidents more closely.

Tony’s story relies on his memory, which is like everyone’s: a bit faulty. The
novel’s retrospective focus is on Veronica, Tony’s first real girlfriend, and Adrian,
his school chum. Both play a large part in Tony’s younger life, although Barnes’s
tone is particularly casual toward them. It’s as if these relationships are no more
significant than passersby on the street. Herein is one of Tony’s major flaws, as
identified by Veronica: nothing excites him. This inability to be moved, or even
demonstrate it, is part of Veronica’s palpable frustration with him. Not that she
is free from fault either. He admits he sees only the obvious, which is interesting
given that he is oblivious to so much. Nonetheless, a mystery ensues with Tony
trying to finally understand the connection with Veronica, her family, and Adrian
to vague recollections of long-past incidents and snippets of conversations.

This terse novel suggests a lot about how and what we choose to remember.

“The Sense of An Ending”
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
163 pages

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2 responses to “The Vagaries of Memory

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  1. If you’re unfamiliar with The Morning News Tournament of Books, you should take a look. The tournament ends tomorrow so you’d need to do some reading to catch up on the results and commentary of each round, but The Sense of An Ending was a #1 seed and… well, I won’t ruin it for you by telling you how far along it’s gone (I noticed you also talked about The Tiger’s WIfe here – she was a #2 seed).

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