Happy Easter! I hope everyone has a great day. We woke up this morning to a trace of snow on the ground. It is quite pretty out now, but it will likely all melt away by afternoon. There’s a robin trying to build a nest in the tree out front and was mad when I came out to take pictures. Snow or no snow, this robin is busy at work — and must not be disturbed.
There’s plenty of snow left in the Canadian Rockies as the hub went skiing yesterday and said it was powdery up there. So while you get your mitts and ski outfit back on, I’ll leave you with a couple of reviews of books I finished last week.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, 2011, 150 pages, Jonathan Cape
Recently I saw the movie adaptation of this novel and then I went back and read the book. Usually it’s the other way around: book first and then the movie, logically. But the movie was leaving the theater and I didn’t want to miss it. The movie is quite good and follows the book fairly closely though there are a few differences.
There’s definitely a number of passages in the book that make it great, along with the story, though I’m still wondering if I liked the movie just as much — as crazy as that sounds. The Indian director Ritesh Batra, who made “The Lunchbox,” does a great job with the film, along with the veteran actors Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling. Need I say more?
I’m not sure why I didn’t read the Julian Barnes novel back in 2011 when it won the Man Booker Prize. It has the kind of haunting storyline from one’s past that always seems to get me. I think it’s been compared to Ian McEwan’s novel “Atonement,” which is one of my all-time favorites. I guess I can see a similarity in that in both books an act is committed in one’s youth that inflicts much hurt and is deeply regretted later in life. These are the stories that often kill me.
In “The Sense of an Ending,” it all starts when the book’s protagonist Tony Webster, a divorced man in his 60s, is bequeathed a diary that belonged to his brilliant school friend, Adrian, who committed suicide 40 years earlier at the age of 22. Tony doesn’t actually get the diary though because his long-ago first girlfriend Veronica, who later dated Adrian in college, has gotten her hands on it. It’s in this struggle over the diary that Tony begins to revisit what happened in his youth and of how badly he reacted to Adrian’s and Veronica’s involvement.
It’s a story in which a lot of ideas come to the forefront — as Tony mulls over his past and his teen days with Veronica — about time and memory and how we choose to reshape events as we tell them to ourselves and others over our lives. There are definitely some truthful passages in the novel that held me deeply, though there’s also Tony’s whiny, obsessive ways and irksome narration at times. I wanted to strangle him: to get on with it. He’s not been that great a person to those close to him and he did something pretty awful way back when. Oh the stupid things we do in our youths!
How it plays out at the end might surprise you. The twist only deepens Tony’s part in it. But his sense of guilt and profound regret seem to save him and made him more redeemable to me. It’s quite a story, packed within a short book and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
10:04 by Ben Lerner, 2014, 256 pages, Farrar Straus Giroux
Meanwhile I listened to this novel as an audiobook last week. I must be going through a New York autobiographical, quirky novel kind of phase as this one is my second in recent weeks. I’m not sure if the novel was as much a full story as episodes in this guy’s life but still it was entertaining.
The protagonist is a 33-year-old Brooklyn-based novelist, poet, and teacher who’s got a lot on his plate at the moment: he’s been recently diagnosed with a serious medical condition; he’s trying to write a second novel — a follow-up to his surprisingly successful debut; and his best friend has asked him to help her conceive a child. He’s reckoning his mortality and the prospect of fatherhood, all the while the city is undergoing frequent superstorms and social unrest.
It’s a pretty funny story, or so the narrator makes it out to be. He’s quite clever, perhaps too much for his own good. There’s many episodes in his writerly life — such as when the narrator gives a reading at a writers’ event and meets a famous author and then later when he goes to a writer’s retreat in Marfa, Texas — that are quite amusing and take unexpected turns. In one part, he talks about the episode that made him want to become a writer — the poetry used at the memorial after the Challenger disaster in 1986. There’s even a part in which a short story the narrator submits to the New Yorker is put in its entirety within the book, and then it tells what happens to the story.
“10:04” is a bit modern and quirky like that. The structure is a bit scattered and that’s probably why I gave it 3.5 stars on Goodreads. But I seem to have liked it a bit more than Jami Attenberg’s New York novel “All Grown Up,” which I reviewed a couple weeks back. In both books, there’s heart underlying the characters’ funny and at times biting disposition that becomes apparent along the way.
“10:04” put Ben Lerner on the map for me, though I’m sure it won’t be a book for everyone. Sometime I want to go back and read his first novel “Leaving the Atocha Station” from 2011— as it does sound similarly humorous and self-deprecating as this one.
What about you — have you read these books or authors, and if so, what did you think?