Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (©2011, Vintage 2112)
This won the Booker Prize last year. I haven’t got anything sensible to add to the general discussion: it’s very good, what seems to me a very English story involving fine class distinctions, sexual awkwardness, failures to communicate and repeated attempts at mind-reading to compensate, missed opportunities, self-exoneration and -recrimination, competent women and hapless (though far from innocent) men.
The central action of the story happens offstage as it were, and is revealed only in the last couple of pages – though there have been plenty of clues throughout. I’m not absolutely sure but I think we never find out the motivations of the two principals, in fact never really know what actually happened. The story is told from the sidelines by someone whose slant on events left him – and therefore us – pretty much missing the interesting stuff.
Yet it works brilliantly. In particular there’s a letter that the narrator wrote which he tells us about fairly early in the piece. Toward the end, someone sends him a photocopy of the letter and we read it in its entirety. The difference is shocking. I can’t think of a more graphic dramatisation of the way we (well, at least the book’s protagonist and I, probably not you of course) tend to recall our personal histories in ways that avoid any squirming discomfort.
It’s very short.