I read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending in 2014. I normally have this weird aversion against introspective narrators, characters who ponder and spout cranial musings instead of actually telling a story — but I liked Tony Webster. I liked his thoughts, the way he said them and the way they made me think about my own shit.
The book traces the memories of old Tony from way back when he was in boarding school with his three other friends. There is definitely a Dead-Poets-Society-slash-The-History-Boys vibe to the characters as Tony and his gang are also a bunch of intelligent, well-read lads who constantly talk about life and the whys and the hows of it.
The narrative conflict is introduced only when Tony receives an “inheritance” from his ex-girlfriend’s mother. It contains two documents from Adrian, one of his old friends in boarding school. Tony initiates contact with his ex to get a hold of those documents and tries to uncover truths about the past.
All throughout the book, Tony shares his insights on youth and old age, on memories, on nostalgia. Here are some of the snippets I genuinely enjoyed and am willfully trying to remember:
For when someone accuses me of trying a little too hard:
“Yes, of course we were pretentious—what else is youth for?”
For moments when the glass is definitely half empty:
“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.”
For when I feel terrible but thankful for long-distance friendships made possible thru email and Facebook:
“We wrote letters to one another, as people—even the young—did in those days. But we had little experience of the form, so an arch self-consciousness often preceded any urgency of content.”
For when someone pulls that passive-aggressive gun:
“You keep asking me questions as if you know the answer to them. Or as if you know the answer you want. So why don’t you tell me what it is and I’ll tell you whether it’s mine as well?”
For when somebody has already called dibs on quoting Camus during suicide talks:
“It had seemed to us philosophically self-evident that suicide was every free person’s right: a logical act when faced with terminal illness or senility; a heroic one when faced with torture or the avoidable deaths of others; a glamorous one in the fury of disappointed love (see: Great Literature).”
For conversations on history because yeah, it comes up every now and then:
“History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”
For when I have to remind myself that I am far from being old old:
“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”
For when people ask why I always, always go with the messy bun:
“Margaret used to say that women often made the mistake of keeping their hair in the style they adopted when they were at their most attractive. They hung on long after it became inappropriate, all because they were afraid of the big cut. ”
For when pain demands to be felt:
“The next day, when I was sober, I thought again about the three of us, and about time’s many paradoxes. For instance: that when we are young and sensitive, we are also at our most hurtful; whereas when the blood begins to slow, when we feel less sharply, when we are more armoured and have learnt how to bear hurt, we tread more carefully.”
For when our decisions are put to test:
“Time… give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”
For when I’m feeling down and wanting to just plummet into the depths of sadness, because apparently, it gets worse:
“No, what I mean is this. When you are in your twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later… later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories.”
The featured image is from Amazon.