Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 58


Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Trader Joe’s Brand

I’m of two minds on Julian Barnes. The Sense of an Ending is the first book I’ve read by him so I guess I’m really just talking about that. It had some interesting twists but also it felt cheap. Needless to say, I’m going to spoil the book, so be warned.

Tony thinks he’s a better person than he is. If this were an 8th Grade reading comprehension test, that would be the one-line wringer for ‘plot.’ And if Mrs. Pritchard is getting really tricky asking for ‘theme,’ it’s that memory is imperfect.

Basically, the story follows the narrator (Tony)’s own account of his life, particularly as it concerns an ex he dated in college and a friend who killed himself (also in college). He starts out hating the ex and revering the friend until he realizes his friend was offing himself to avoid an unplanned fatherhood and his ex was traumatized by abusive parents. Predictable things, ultimately, but Barnes writes in a way to make you buy-in to the falsehoods as you go along. That’s pretty interesting.

What’s not so interesting is that the great revelation – ‘I’m not as good as I thought I was’ – happens four or five separate times. Tony keeps thinking he’s got it, keeps getting it wrong. And after the first or second of these happenings it starts to get absurd (and not in a good way). He goes so far as to consistently mistake the identity of his dead friend’s son. Meanwhile, all the characters around him abjectly refuse to give him any answers to questions about their shared past despite his asking. He comes off more a pathetic idiot than a complicated human being. Like I said, cheap.

Unless Barnes knows exactly what he’s doing. I came away from the book not being quite sure. There’s so much tropism that you start to expect the tropes are intentional. There’s a man blinded by patriarchy, women who are single-use saviours or foils, etc. The true purpose of the book might be to point out just how idiotic men – or at least, men in literature – often are. That said, I never found an ‘ah-hah!’ moment of authorship that confirms it.

So I’m of two minds: The Sense of an Ending is worth a read. It might be very clever. Or it might be too clever for it’s own good.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain; I started reading this years ago and got side-tracked; I’ve had trouble picking it back up after Bourdain’s suicide; I’ve been in the mood to confront something, so I’m picking it up again; we’ll see how far I get this time

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What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

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