Tag-Archive for ◊ Times Literary Supplement ◊

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• 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
Author:
• Wednesday, March 04th, 2009

Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in the South East of Ireland in 1955. His father who was a school teacher and a local historian, died when Toibin was twelve years old.

Colm Toibin is the second youngest of five children. He went to St Peter’s college in Wexford and later studied English and History at University College in Dublin. After graduating he left Ireland and taught English for four years in the Dublin School of English in Barcelona (Spain).

He went back to Ireland in 1979 and worked as a journalist at In Dublin, then at Magill magazine followed by the Sunday Independent in Dublin, was a contributor to Esquire, the London Review of Books, New Statsmen, The Times Literary Supplement and the Irish Review.

He has been visiting professor at Stanford University and The University of Texas in Austin. He also lectured at other universities, including Boston College and New York University. Colm Toibin lives and works in Dublin. He is one Ireland’s leading contemporary writers.

Toibin won several awards. He is the author of number of fiction and non-fiction works.
Fiction:
The South, 1990
The Heather Blazing, 1992
The Story of The Night, 1996
The Blackwater Lightship, 1999
The Master, 2004
Mothers and Sons, 2006.

He has also written ten non-fiction books and a play staged in Dublin in 2004 called: Beauty in a Broken Place.

Mothers and Sons is Toibin’s first collection of short stories. Three long stories and six short ones of which, eight stories are set in contemporary Ireland and the last one in a village in the Pyrenees in provincial Spain.

In his book the author describes the relationships forged between mothers and sons in their adulthood; the very fine unseen tie woven between them,their lack of communication and understanding with what it entails of heartbreak and sadness, despair, loneliness and sometime guilt. The author also tackles the problem of how to deal with one’s losses of a dear one.

Toibin succeeds in conveying with great sensitivity and melancholy, the psychology that shapes, each time differently, mother to son or son to mother. Whether the son is a professional thief, or faced with his estranged mother, or a paedophile priest, or sad over his mother’s death, or suffering from depression, or looking for her under the snow.

The nine stories, despite the book title which infers love and warmth, are all gloomy, unhappy and devoid of the cosy feeling that could be expected between mothers and sons. Instead there is the deep pain inflicted by sons on their mothers and the consequences of mothers’ behaviour on their sons, which combined with the harsh reality of life that each side is faced with, helps to create an isolation between the two sides.

Toibin’s choice of short stories, lack of landscape description, or any usage of flowery prose for this delicate subject is deliberate and most suitable. His way to make the readers feel the pain of the character, by keeping the intensity of the feeling which could have been easily lost in a long story.

Toibin’s description of endurance, separation and longing with such depth, shows a keen understanding of the complex human psychology and its frailty, which is movingly haunting and thought provoking.

The author didn’t impose himself as a moralist, in fact the reader is not sure who is the unscrupulous and who is the sympathetic character because of the palpable but unspoken emotions. All the stories are left without a classical ending intentionally. Toibin wanted to withhold the conclusion in order to confront his readers with a conflict,dramatise it and leave it at that.

Mothers and Sons is melancholic like all other Toibin’s novels. The answer of the author to that, is in one of his interviews, he says : “When I started out writing I would have considered myself to be quite happy. I’m not a sad boy, but the books are full of terrible melancholy. I’ve learned about it from writing the books. If I had known all this about myself before I started, I probably would have gone into serious therapy instead of writing.”

Toibin’s style of writing is pure and neat without being cold. Mothers and Sons continues to collect international acclaim.