Tag-Archive for ◊ essays ◊

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:
• Friday, September 27th, 2013

Luanne Rice, the eldest of three daughters, was born in 1955 in New Britain, Connecticut into an Irish catholic family. Her father was a typewriter salesman and her mother an English teacher.

After finishing high school education, Rice studied History of Art at Connecticut College but wasn’t able to continue her studies further because her father’s grave illness obliged her to seek work.

Rice’s first poem was published in The Hartford Courant newspaper when she was just eleven years old and her first short story in American Girl Magazine at the early age of fifteen.

Luanne’s debut novel, Angels All Over Town, was published in 1985. Since then, writing became a full time job for her. She is a prolific writer with her novels having been translated into several languages and some of them made into films, TV mini-series and theatre productions. She is the New York Times’ best selling author.

Rice is a dedicated ecologist and a nature lover. She has written essays on migrating birds, oceans and offshore drilling. She is also devoted to helping women victims of domestic violence. In 2002 she received an honorary degree as Bachelor of Humane Letters from Connecticut College.

Rice travelled all over France and elsewhere in Europe when she lived in Paris for two years. After her mother died from a brain tumour, she returned to France and made a pilgrimage to the Camargue. She was bewitched by the green marshes and the magical landscape which inspired her to write her novel Light of the Moon.

She now lives with her second husband between New York, Old Lyme (Connecticut) and Southern California.

After grieving the loss of her mother and a long, unhappy love relationship with her colleague, Ian Stewart, Susannah Connoly, the Connecticut based skilled anthropologist, is encouraged by her mentor, Helen Oakes, to take two weeks holiday in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in the French Camargue. Going to this part of the world would also fulfil the wish of Susannah’s deceased mother who wanted her to visit Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in order to see Saint Sarah’s shrine which was responsible for her birth. Susannah’s mother was yearning to have a child after many years of marriage. Her wish came true after visiting Saint Sarah and praying to her.

The story of Light of the Moon is set in this stunningly beautiful part of the south of France, la Camargue, with its lush marshes, wild white horses and wild black bulls. The author even takes her readers for an underwater dive into a unique prehistoric sea cave at Cap Morgiou (Marseille), which was discovered in 1991 by the French professional diver, Henri Cosquer.

With her painstaking attention to detail, describing the splendid surroundings of this part of France, the author transports her readers there. One can smell the salty marshes, hear the Mistral wind blowing, feel drenched by the heavy rain and under the spell of a charmingly romantic silvery moon. In this novel, nature is an important well portrayed character.

Another interesting theme developed in the novel are the historical traditions and beliefs of the Romany and Gypsy people and their devotion to their mythic patron saint, Sarah (Sara-la-Kali). Every 24th of May they come from everywhere to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer to venerate their patron saint and have a great celebration with school children carrying a banner in the procession, while “the band would play and the equestrian team would ride in formation”.

The chosen setting for the novel is magnificent and the history of Romany and gypsy communities is interesting but unfortunately, the author didn’t expand more on the subject despite the length of the novel. Same for the characters who are not well developed. Regrettably, the romance between Susannah and the handsome Grey Dempsey, the American journalist who became a ranch owner after marrying an attractive gypsy, is mawkish, unoriginal and contrived. Some passages are monotonously repetitive which creates boredom and a sense of déjà-vu.

Alas, despite the ground being fertile, the harvest has failed to deliver.

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