Tag-Archive for ◊ Crime fiction ◊

• 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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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Barbara Cleverly has been a teacher in Cambridge and today lives in a medieval house in an English Suffolk village. She has been a teacher of French, English and Latin, but stopped working in order to dedicate herself to writing full-time.

Barbara Cleverly is the inventor of the Scotland Yard detective, Joe Sandilands, and his adventurous investigations in India.

“The Palace Tiger” is Barbara Cleverly’s fourth novel. The first was “The Last Kashmiri Rose” published in 2001. This was followed by “Ragtime In Simla” in 2002, and by “Damascene Blade” in 2003. Her fourth novel, “The Palace Tiger” was published in 2004, and her fifth was “The Bee’s Kiss” which first appeared in 2005.

Her annually published novels are mysteries solved by the clever British detective, Sandilands, a First World War hero.

Barbara Cleverly explains how she had the idea of writing a series of books all taking place in India. “The battered old tin trunk I found in the attic didn’t look inviting at first sight. Full of family bits and pieces, my husband said. You know, sepia postcards from the Pyrenees, funeral lists, old bank books…” “I opened it anyway. Out spilled more than two centuries of memories, the memories of a family whose exploits and achievements marched in time with the flowering of the British Empire, a family of soldiers, statesmen, architects, doctors and explorers, but my attention was caught by the photograph of a young boy.

Handsome even by today’s standards, his resemblance to my stepson, even down to the haircut, was extraordinary. “Ah, that’s Brigadier Harold Sandilands, my husband explained, when he was a schoolboy at Harrow. My great uncle spent a lot of time in India.”

“The Palace Tiger”, like Barbara Cleverly’s other four novels, is a Whodunit à la Agatha Christie. Joe Sandilands, a Scotland Yarder, finds himself compelled to unravel the mysterious deaths of the dying Maharajah’s three sons and heirs as well as to eliminate a man-eating tiger terrorizing the northern villages. The whole complicated plot takes place in Ranipur in India. The author doesn’t miss an opportunity to describe in detail and in a colourful way, 1920’s colonial India.

The Maharajah’s luxurious palaces, the harem’s quarter, their clothing, their day-to-day life, the death rituals. The beautiful gardens and lake, but most important the conspiracy between different people in the palace. Each character serves a purpose in the complicated plot.

This is an action thriller which keeps the reader in suspense until the end. A good, rich description also of Machiavellic ambitions and greedy characters. All together a very colourful, thrilling and entertaining book.