Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Sense of an Ending: An End That Can't Come Soon Enough

At least it was on sale.
When my mom was in college, she had been assigned An American Tragedy for a class, but was having a hard time finishing it. One of her profs had noticed that she had been dragging the book around for a rather long time and said to her, "Any book you can't finish in three weeks is not worth reading."

I was about to invoke my mom's An American Tragedy Rule and stop reading Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending 25 pages before the end. But I felt I needed to finish the book because Dame Stella Rimington, the chair of the Booker Prize judges the year The Sense of an Ending won, said that it was "subtly plotted" and "revealed new depths" each time you read it.

Usually the books I can't finish are craptastic pieces of trash like The Help and Rubyfruit Jungle. They're books that I feel I shouldn't waste my limited existence on. But The Sense of an Ending is a really well-written book -- and it won the Booker Prize! After reading the first few pages of the book, I became sad because I'd never write as well as Julian Barnes.

And yet...

And yet Julian Barnes has used his incredible talent to write a book whose protagonist, narrator, and almost sole character is the equivalent of the boring guy sitting next to you on a long bus ride, talking your ear off about some guy who's been dead since 1970.

I skimmed the last 25 pages because I couldn't take it anymore. It was the equivalent of putting on my headphones and missing parts of what The Boring Guy on the Bus said.

Maybe Julian Barnes knew exactly what he was doing when he made his protagonist, Tony, the literary equivalent of dry toast. It isn't so much that Tony is boring; it's that he's so boring that I honestly saw no reason to want to spend time with him and listen to his stupid story of woe. If I were to meet Tony at a party, I would make up a dumbass excuse like, "Oh! I think I see Becky by the punch and I must go talk to her about that 21 game next week" to get out of talking to him.

But A.D. Miller said that losing the Booker Prize to this book was like losing to Brazil in the World Cup.

Tony, the protagonist and World's Most Uninteresting Human Being Ever, is an old guy who is sad that he is getting old. He looks back wistfully on his youth, misremembering all kinds of things and not realizing what a mean sunovabitch he was to his friend Adrian when Adrian started dating Tony's ex-girlfriend, Veronica. The trigger for all this misremembering is that Veronica's mother has died and she's left Tony Adrian's diary. Tony -- who is about as deep as a drop or two of water on your kitchen counter -- doesn't really wonder why Veronica's mother would have Adrian's diary. Instead Tony starts thinking about how batshit insane Veronica was and misremembering their breakup, eventually just becoming obsessed with the whole thing.

Oh, and Tony starts thinking about memory. He starts thinking about how your memory of an event is different than what it was, and why you need other people to corroborate a memory, or even refute a memory as you get old. He sinks far into the depths of deepity, just like that Boring Guy in the Bus eventually does.

You know which book discusses the imperfections of memory, especially in terms of old romances, but does it better? High Fidelity, that's which book.

You know what the difference is between High Fidelity and The Sense of an Ending? High Fidelity has funny moments and doesn't take itself Seriously.

There is nothing funny about Tony or The Sense of an Ending. Nothing. There are no moments where you lightly chuckle to yourself. There are no jokes. There are no amusing moments of levity. It's all Very Serious.

Now, it's established that Julian Barnes is brilliant, so why the fuck did he write this book this way? Did he deliberately set out to write a book with The Boring Guy on the Bus as the protagonist? Did he want to tell The Boring Guy on the Bus's Boring Story to the masses? Is he making a point about people who are lonely and how they just go on and on and on without really making a point?

I don't know. I don't care.

Maybe I'm too dumb to understand the subtle nuance of the book, but I swear Veronica's version of this story would be way more interesting and enlightening.

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