I recently posted about the evolution of the cover design of Julian Barnes’ 2011 Booker winner. Little did I know that the cover and the video montage of the process that led to it would be more enjoyable than the book itself. Though the book has a handful of interesting moments in it, it largely left me feeling decidedly ‘meh.’ So much so that now, two weeks after finishing it I struggle to care enough to write about it. On the whole it felt too dull to get worked up about, though I did become a little irritated when Barnes finally introduced a key conflict between two characters then failed to deal with it, or indeed even mention it again, choosing instead to pursue an ending I thought at best contrived, at worst deeply unengaging.
You might argue that I don’t get it but then I’m not alone and have to agree with Geoff Dyer’s New York Times book review in which he explains much more clearly many of the issues I had with the book, closing with this summary:
It isn’t terrible, it is just so . . . average. It is averagely compelling (I finished it), involves an average amount of concentration and, if such a thing makes sense, is averagely well written: excellent in its averageness!
Shame. Still, the cover is still rather lovely. And I have three of the Booker short list for 2011 sitting on my Kindle. I wonder if any of those might have been a more worthy winner.
What’s the most disappointing book you’ve read recently?
4 Responses to 100 Word Review – The Sense of an Ending
I suspect the Julian Barnes may be an age-thing – I loved it.
And most disappointed – Goon Squad. It all felt too schizophrenic for me.
You might well be right. I loved Goon Squad, but I can see why others might not, in fact I explore that in my essay. That’s the great thing about books though, there’s something out there for everyone.
It wasn’t the age of the narrator or the idea of looking back that bugged me with the Barnes book though. One of my favourite books is Being Dead by Jim Crace and that deals with a similar theme to A Sense of an Ending, the idea of looking back over a life, in fact, Crace does it with both lives of his married couple. Being Dead is a dazzling book, both structurally and in its use of language. For me anyway, The Sense of an Ending, for many of the reasons Dyer details in his review, just wasn’t. That said, I’d be really interested to know why you love it. Perhaps I am missing something.
I love his voice. He captures that ‘looking backness’ that older people have, slightly wandering off the subject from time to time but always just about relevant – so I completely identified with his voice, and that question about whether things are as we remember them – the way we recreate our own stories so they are easier to live with. And I loved his language – the ‘music’ of it – there wasn’t a word out of place, and all economically done.
(And I read it after finishing Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That – which I thought was truly turgid, so anything I readable after that was going to be a joy!)
I liked that element of things myself. Just wish he had done more with it. I thought he was going to do something interesting with how he and his ex-girlfriend remember relationship, but instead he took, to me anyway, a less interesting tack. Perhaps my dislike comes more from the fact that I would have taken a different focus if I was to write the story than any failing on Barnes part. Perhaps I’m picking it apart too much after twelve weeks of doing just that to other novels.
I have read lots of similar opinions of Shriver’s latest. Shame. Kevin was not easy reading but certainly compelling. Might skip So Much For That.
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