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Author:
• Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England in 1946 from parents both of whom were French teachers. A few weeks after his birth his family moved to the outer suburbs of London. He went to the City of London School from 1957 to 1964 followed by four years at Magdalen College, Oxford where he studied modern languages and graduated with honours in 1968.

He then worked for three years as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary supplement, followed by a career as a journalist, a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. In 1977 Barnes worked as a reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesman and the New Review and from 1979 to 1986 he was an assistant literary editor and television critic for the New Statesman magazine followed by the Observer newspaper. He was London correspondent for the New Yorker magazine from 1990 to 1995.

Julian Barnes currently lives in London and has written several novels, short stories and essays. In the nineteen eighties he also wrote crime fiction novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh. Kavanagh being the surname of his late, literary agent’s wife, Patricia Kavanagh. Julian Barnes has received numerous notable awards, prizes and honours for his work which have been translated into several languages. The Sense Of An Ending is Barnes’ fourteenth novel and it won the Man Booker Prize For Fiction in 2011.

Tony Webster, the narrator in The Sense Of An Ending, has a weak, passive character. He is a retired Englishman in his sixties who lives alone in a London suburb. He goes from a dull, uneventful, quiet life, to a dull married life, a daughter, followed by an uneventful divorce. He once said: “I had wanted life not to bother me too much and succeeded”. He “neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him… avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival”.

The Sense Of An Ending is divided into two parts. In the first, Tony is reminiscing about his college and university years. The second part starts with the arrival of an unexpected letter from a lawyer carrying a strange, baffling will with a bequest of £500 as well as the diary of his departed bright, close school friend that he always looked up to – Adrian Finn. This was all from the estate of Mrs Sarah Ford, the recently deceased mother of his former manipulative and whimsical college girlfriend, Veronica Ford.

Tony has only once met Mrs Sarah Ford, forty years ago when Veronica invited him to spend the weekend at her family’s house in Kent, which ended up being an unpleasant experience. After her mother’s death,Veronica took Adrian Finn’s diary and refused to give it to Tony. Tony is intrigued by the whole affair which pushes him to put all his effort into an attempt to unfold the mystery of this bizarre bequest and the enigma behind Adrian’s suicide.

The matter requires Tony’s eager, intensive investigation. For the first time he will try to make sense of a life he constantly kept afar and to understand why he “still doesn’t get it and never did” as Veronica keeps repeating to him.

After forty years, hidden memories from the distant nineteen sixties resurface. Tony now has time to reflect upon his high school days, his close cliques of school friends – Alexander, Colin and Adrian – and what has become of them after their graduation and after each one went his separate way. The author warns us in the first page of his novel that: “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed”, because time has the power to deform memories, falsely, into certainties. People prefer to conveniently modify the past to be able to live comfortably with themselves and in order to accommodate the requirements of the current time.

After Tony’s great perseverance, the mystery he was seeking is unravelled with an unexpected twist and will lead to an overwhelming, heartbreaking truth to justify why the ending make sense. A very subtle master stroke by the author.

Throughout the novel, Julian Barnes is sparing with his information – he presents it with many options, varies the angles without disclosing anything, keeping the suspense and the ambiguity in order to reveal an unexpected denouement which clarifies everything at the end.

The Sense Of An Ending is skilfully written and plotted, some parts are tinged with dry English sense of humour. It is the story of a man rediscovering himself while coming to terms with his past “deformed” memories and making sense of perplexing matters. Although a short novel, it is alluring in a philosophical as well as psychological way and a thought-provoker.

A sombre, disturbing insight on ageing and its weaknesses. The novel is dense with reflections and contains several themes like ageing, the passing of time and its effects, the fickleness of memory, the reshaping of the past, remorse, regrets over missed opportunities and how life can guide a person to a different path from the expected one.

In his young days, Tony and his friends “imagined themselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into their lives”. Tony Webster will never attain the expected life he wished to have in his adulthood – a life of “passion and danger, ecstasy and despair”. Instead he will come to the conclusion that life has many responsibilities, but most of all is full of considerable “unrest…great unrest”. As the French proverb goes: “Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait”,“If the young only knew and the old only could”.

 
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Author:
• Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Sam Savage was born in Camden, South Carolina,USA in 1940. He graduated from Yale University in 1968 and received his Ph.d. in philosophy from the same university in 1973. He was also a teacher at Yale for a short time.

Prior to writing, Savage worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, a shellfish fisherman and letter-press printer. In 2004 Sam Savage moved to Madison Wisconsin, USA, where he now lives with his wife.

Sam Savage has written five books to date but he is known for his best selling first novel Firmin, published in 2006 and translated into several languages.

The novel is narrated by a skinny, erudite, sensitive, extraordinary rat called Firmin. He is a very special rodent who can read by an unknown miracle. He is born with an unusually large head and ugly features and is the runt of a numerous litter of twelve siblings. Firmin’s birth takes place in what he calls, “a mausoleum of books, a museum of forgotten treasures, a cemetery of the unread and unreadable”, the basement of Pembroke bookshop in Scollay Square, an old, insalubrious part of Boston which is about to be pulled down as part of an urban reconstruction scheme.

Firmin was born in the sixties to an alcoholic, overweight mother of easy virtue named Flo, who cushions her litter’s nest by making confetti out of James Joyce’s big novel, Finnegans Wake, “The biggest book she could get her paws on”.

Soon after his birth, Firmin learns quickly that he has to fend for himself. He owes his survival to books, becoming figuratively very fond of literature for nourishing his highly curious intellect as well as literally nibbling books when desperately hungry and when he has nothing else to eat.
Firmin finds out that no matter how keen his intellect can be, his stomach also claims its due.

He also finds comfort in his loneliness and in his hunger in the Rialto Theater where he gorges himself watching the “lovelies” – the exquisite naked actresses shown in late night films – as well as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, while at the same time gorging on the food dropped by spectators.

Due to his extensive reading and film-watching, Firmin acquires knowledge and a philosophical, critical mind. He becomes remarkably cultivated and therefore feels more affinity with humans than with rats. In fact he considers himself a human at heart which creates a chasm between him and the other rodents.

After observing Norman, the bookshop owner, for several days, Firmin develops some fondness for him to the extent of wanting to befriend him. Sadly, things go wrong through a misjudgment on both sides when Norman tries to poison Firmin, regarded as a vermin squatting his bookshop. Henceforth Firmin will distance himself from Norman and mention him only by his family name, Shine, since he is no longer considered a friend.

Depressed, forlorn, frustrated and disappointed by being unable to fulfill his dream of communicating with people, despite his hopeless efforts and eagerness, Firmin finds his salvation with his new friend, Jerry, an alcoholic, marginal novelist who hosts him in his humble room above the bookshop before dying in an accident and leaving Firmin once more to fend for himself.

As Firmin is about to pass out under the rubble of his beloved bookshop, he thinks as he always did, how lucky he is to have been a very special rat, enjoying reading and dreaming about books to the point of ecstasy and to the point of substituting himself with the characters from his books or the film stars watched in the Rialto Theater. Even if he was estranged by his own family and disconnected from other rodents, he felt the urge to fulfill his exceptional destiny.

For Firmin, books were his only solace and a mine of enrichment during his short existence. He says: “Even though I consider myself lucky to have lived the life I did, I would not like to be that lucky twice”. Firmin feels inconsolable and caustic. He says: “ O bitter ending! They’ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me […] Dry and cold was the world and beautiful the words”.

A very imaginative, endearing, touching and original bittersweet novel, funny in parts, about a rat who, during his short life, attains a great deal of culture and knowledge coupled with a vivid imagination. Regrettably all his acquired knowledge, culture and philosophical views are to no avail. A thought provoking subject.

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