Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Making Sense of Barnes' Ending
Or: "Are Barnes and Ian McEwan actually the same person?" (Does Tony "atone" for anything, in a nod to McEwan's Atonement?)
Or: "Is this the Downton Abbey of literature where entire decades are erased to get to the next plot point?" Annie, anyone? Margaret and Susie? I was waiting for Cousin Matthew to make an appearance.
Finally, I took another look at the cover, to remind myself that this novel had been awarded the Man Booker Prize. I remembered that Anita Brookner's equally slender novel Hotel du Lac had received that honor some decades earlier in 1984, dubiously, according to various critics who couldn't imagine women at the center of a novel. Reading Barnes, I didn't care which gender; I just wanted a fully realized character.
The novel began promisingly enough, with a wink to the Brideshead Revisited genre, with a touch of Dead Poet's Society. But before all that started, Barnes' narrator listed some memories, which, if his intention was to be enigmatic, failed, as they were all quite obvious. Just the who and why were missing.
If beginnings are obvious, endings abound. There's the sense of an end everywhere the reader looks: from Adrian Finn's last name (fin; finis) to the missing end of the excerpt from Adrian's diary. Middles cannot hold, as when Tony and Veronica meet at the middle of the Wobbly Bridge; but endings cannot necessarily be found.
One of the themes throughout the novel is that Tony "doesn't get it." He doesn't, until he finally thinks he does. But does he get too much? Does history repeat itself because of his actions? I'd say no, but that's not the point of the novel.
It's really about how history is shaped, via documentation, voices, and actions, all of which come together to form some sort of picture. But that picture can be fragile, like a egg, which Sarah Ford demonstrates by sweeping a broken fried egg into a bin and starting a new, whole one. History can only be sensed, by all our sensory powers, even though, as the book shows, for some characters it can also be senseless.
Would love to have a conversation with fellow gentle readers--what did you think of this book?