The Sense of an Ending and 10:04

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?

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25 Responses to The Sense of an Ending and 10:04

  1. I can’t imagine snow anywhere. It’s warm here but, thankfully, the humidity’s not too bad yet.

    I haven’t heard of The Sense of an Ending book or movie – that’s how out of it I am.

    Happy Easter!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kathy, hope your Easter weekend was great. Admittedly, it was a bit of a shock to see the snow here. I had missed Julian Barnes’s book the first time, but then all of the sudden the movie was there, which I hadn’t even heard about. I was lucky to catch it.

  2. Carmen says:

    The Sense of An Ending sounds like my kind of book and my kind of adaptation, though I hadn’t heard of it before. I’ll have to look for both.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Carmen, mine as well. It’s probably not as good as Atonement was but I still found it a bit intriguing. Hope you like it.

  3. The Sense of an Ending was a favorite several years ago, but I remember very little of the plot now. I’ve kept it on my shelf for a reread… perhaps the time has come. Haven’t seen the film.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi JoAnn, glad you’re back; you’ve been busy in Florida. Yeah over time it’s hard to remember these books — hence my reason for the blog, ha. I didn’t realize there was a film of it — till I came upon it. The story is quite alluring in both book and film.

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    I am looking forward (cautiously) to reading The Sense of an Ending. Hoping it won’t make me more self-conscious as I work on my autobiography. I have not read Ben Lerner though I have been aware of him. If it is about a writer, I will probably like it.
    Happy Easter to you, hub, and dog!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Judy, hope you had a nice Easter weekend as well. I’ll be curious to hear what you think of the Julian Barnes book. The narrator is a bit annoying but still the story is worth it. Ben Lerner is quite clever and funny; this book seems about him and his life as a writer; it seems pretty episodic.

  5. I like the sound of 1004, but I probably won’t look for it since you didn’t really like it all that much. I am on a kick lately to read books set in New York City. It’s probably because I’ll be there at the end of May for BookExpo.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Deb, 10:04 is pretty different but you might like it. I found it worthwhile, clever & funny, about this guy’s life as a writer. There’s a lot of NYC novels out these days, I keep reading them. I hope you have a blast at the BookExpo in May.

  6. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie of The Sense of an Ending, but it grabs me.

    I’ve seen a few movies based on books that I saw before reading the book, like ROOM and Brooklyn.

    I often like the movies more than the books, but not necessarily because I’ve seen them first.

    Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Good point Laurel. There are some movies I see first. Both the ones you mention I saw the movies first as well. You might like the movie of The Sense of an Ending more than the book. If it comes out your way, go see it, or check for it once it gets to rental. I think you would like it.

  7. Viv says:

    looking forward to reading The sense of an ending!! looks like a great read! and movie! Snow does look pretty, hope it doesn’t come eastward! Give Stella girl a big cuddle for me! xoviv

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Vivienne, it seems you’ve been on an epic drive back east. Yeah the snow was a bit of a shock here. I am ready for summer, of course. Stella is doing well, I hope Lola is too. talk later.

  8. Michelle says:

    Yikes! Snow! Our weather seems to finally have turned the corner and decided to become spring. I hope that means no more snow until fall!

    I had to look to see if I had read the Julian Barnes book; I haven’t but it is one of those I keep eyeballing every time I see it as something that I should read. I had no idea they made a movie out of it. I’m glad you enjoyed both the movie and the book.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Michelle. So glad Wisconsin weather is turning nice. I think we are rounding a bend on it soon too. Yeah I had always put off the Barnes book until I saw the movie, then I said I should combine the two!

  9. Brian Joseph says:

    Happy belated Easter!

    I have not seen nor read The Sense of an Ending. It sounds so good. I want to at least see the film.

    Though not as old as the book’s protagonist I often think a lot about my past. I have a few lifelong friends with a lot of water under the bridge. Thus, such retrospective stories are of interest to me.

    Here on Long Island it has finally warmed up. It has been a cold fall!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Brian. Hope you had a good Easter weekend. Glad it’s warmed up there. I think you would like the Julian Barnes book — it’s both introspective and retrospective, ha. There’s quite a few ideas in it — especially on how we make and preserve memories.

  10. Happy belated Easter!
    Great review as always 🙂

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi RT: thanks! Despite the snowflakes, we had a nice weekend. Glad you liked the reviews. I’ll stop by to see what you’re up to.

  11. Sarah says:

    I didn’t know that Sense of an Ending had been made into a movie. I do remember it as a short, quirky book, an inward-looking, middle-aged, narration…?? (I could have been reading Richard Ford at the time as well.) I will look for the movie. Jim Broadbent & Charlotte Rampling are a dynamic pair!

  12. Sarah says:

    p.s. The late snow pics are beautiful.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Sarah, luckily the snow is gone for the moment. Yeah the movie of it came out in March; I didn’t hear about it till it was here. See it if you get a chance. A bit sad and regretful a story with a tinge of mystery about whatever happened back in their youths.

  13. I love when you review the book and movie adaptation. The Sense of an Ending was too bitter for me. I can’t remember if I finished it or quit early. Others love his writing.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Sarah, thanks — it can be fun to compare the book vs the movie. I can see where the book wouldn’t be for everyone. I did find the narrator of the story to be quite annoying at times; in many ways he’s not a nice person throughout it. And he doesn’t seem to get it till the very end when he’s remorseful. But it’s questionable whether he’s entirely redeemable.

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