Not sure when last I read a novel that has so annoyed and intrigued me as the one I read last night and this morning, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes which is the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize. What were the judges thinking? This is a 2011 feeble old man’s version of the 1960’s John Osborne “angry young man”. But, sadly, no ranting against the establishment here, this is but a shadow. The pompous, smug and so un-self aware protagonist (whom you want to give a kick up the derriere) sidles through the narrow backwater of his British, middle class, suburban life in self-congratulatory sloth, proud of the fact the life never happens to him; while with his passive-aggressive non-actions, his negative withdrawal from an emotional life, he poisons those few people with whom he interacts.
Maybe you have to be British to appreciate fully this one. For me, I prefer my old men to be like King Lear tearing at the very fabric of the heavens who have conspired against his hubris.
Yes, you are correct, there are redemptive tidbits on his journey to remorse. Remorse! What a pathetic state to journey towards. Good grief, where are the Toni Morrison’s of the world who present the highest aspirations and desires of the human heart and the lowest carnal instincts? where are the writers and books that teach and tease and torture our souls? Yes, there are platitudinous attempts at philosophical gravitas here but all they succeed in doing is to seem out of place.
Modern editors, we are told, want no description, only one voice–first person–prose stripped of adverbs and adjectives, Barnes certainly delivered. Thankfully he only wrote one hundred and sixty three pages for this one. He may aspire to write like J.M. Coetzee, but I know Coetzee’s work and Barnes (here at least) is no Coetzee.