Friday, January 24, 2014

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes

This book has been on my TBR pile since it won the Booker Prize in 2011. I am trying to read my way through the Booker Winners and have challenged myself to read at least one of these books every month in 2014. The last Booker Winner I read was "Hotel du Lac" by Anita Brookner and one of these days I hope to get around to reviewing it.

The Sense of an Ending is narrated by Tony Webster, a divorced, retired, middle-aged man as he reminisces about his childhood and youth and realises that memory isn't always most reliable of mediums. The book takes us on Tony's journey as a pretentious schoolboy, trying to fit in as much as he is trying to stand out and how his road takes a sudden turn when he meets Adrian Finn. Finn is the quintessential "cool outsider" and it doesn't take long for everyone to fall for him. Almost a decade and the decimation of a relationship later the plot culminates into an climatic suicide and this allows for the explanation and unravelling of events in the second half of the book.

Ironically, what bothers me about the book is the ending. The anticlimax can only be rivalled by that of "The Little Friend" by Donna Tartt and leaves one with the vulnerable feeling of "Wait, Wut?" At least Tartt had a full-sized novel to play with; at 150 pages The Sense of an Ending is more a self-conscious novella. Other than that the characters are pretty generic and some of the scenes seem straight out of "The Secret History" or "Dead Poet's Society". What I do like about the book is the questions it raises about the self-righteousness of human behaviour and how history is made of the lies of the victor. I couldn't sympathise with any of the characters but that is what is expected of the reader: to antagonise all of those characters so that we have a sense of the narrator's flawed perspective.

This quote captures the essence of the book perfectly; “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Night Vale and endings.

These days the evenings come early and they are accompanied by an eerie lack of warmth and a strange madness amongst strangers compelling them to share stories. I live a tropical metropolis known for its hostility. Sharing stories with people, even family members, is considered offensive. And just today I was stopped by two strangers commenting about the weirdness of the weather who then jumped into narratives of their own respective childhoods comprising completely of warm evenings and clear skies and how they have never seen anything like this in their lives. At this point I was already engrossed in the much more exciting lives of the fictional characters trapped between the pages of the inanimate book I held in my hands. The real people shuffled away. They must have thought they were being interesting and friendly. I guess its the foggy skies and lack of sunlight which affects the brain in surprising ways.

I finished "The Sense of an Ending" today and wished it ended different. And started differently as well. Not to spoil the book review but if you are going to do spoilt, overconfident, psuedo-intellectual, philosophy-spewing, "Dead-Poet's Society" inspired, English school-boys, don't do it half-assed. Take a leaf out of "The Secret History" and do it properly. Also ever heard about character growth? Despite its failings I still love meself a schoolboy/schoolgirl/boarding school novel. Especially the ones where they wear uniforms and teachers are called Sir/Ma'am like in a proper school and not by their names like in those other schools. This is the reason why I could never relate to any American high school movie or book because they do things just too differently there. Their elements are too alien.

Speaking of aliens, I have trying to jump into the bandwagon called the fandom of the much hyped "Welcome to Night Vale" but no matter how much I try to like it, all it does is annoy me. On paper it has all the elements of a show I'll fall in love with: X-Files inspired, aliens, a close-knit community, beautiful leads and lots of unexplained phenomena. But it's just not hitting the right notes for me. The episodes keep getting weirder but its like they are trying too hard. Since I have already wasted time listening to 6 episodes(casts?) now, I'll stop it and look for another podcast in similar genre. I also in the market for a good horror story if anyone has any recommendations.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kokoro - Sōseki Natsume

Kokoro: Heart, not as the body part, but as a feeling.

I love most of the Japanese Literature I read; exceptions are rare. Even through bad translations, alien customs and, unquantifiable imagery. I love it all. Mostly because of the sublimity of the Japanese language or the sheer poetry of the Japanese way of live; these books just draw me in. I picked up Kokoro because it is a Japanese classic exploring the relationship between a young man and his Sensei as the main thread and exploring the transition of Japan from the Meiji era into the modern world at large. The friendship at the heart of the story is strange to me because the fascination that the younger man has for this teacher goes unexplained throughout the book. It is never explained why the two of them are attracted towards each other enough to reveal life-long secrets. The conversations between them are quite vague and long and at times I felt like I was missing the point but so does the protagonist until the big reveal. Like:

“I often laughed, and you often gave me a dissatisfied look, till you pressed me to unfold my past before you as if it were a roll of pictures. It was then I felt respect for you. Because you unreservedly showed me your resolution to catch something alive in my being, and to sip the warm blood running in my body, by cutting my heart. At that time, I was still living, and did not want to die. So I rejected your request, promising to satisfy you some day. Now I am going to destroy my heart myself, and pour my blood into your veins. I shall be happy if a new life can enter into your bosom, when my heart has stopped beating.”

The book moves at an extremely slow pace and there is much more than just a sprinkling of Japanese words but I prefer a slower narrative anyways. When the big "secret" is finally revealed I felt kind of disappointed and cheated because I expected it to be a great intellectual anguish or some kind of spiritual epiphany but it turns out nothing but a juvenile love triangle. I'd have given 3 stars if the ending didn't include a suicide. For me, that's just the author taking the easy way out.

Rating: 2/5

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