Author: Julian Barnes
Date Finished: 11/08/14
Re-Read? : First time read
Challenges? : No
Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic
I picked up this book a year or two ago when it was on offer since it had won the Man Booker prize in 2011 and looked like an intriguing read. It had slowly but surely been making its way up my TBR shelf and it’s so small I just popped it into my suitcase for Italy in case I needed a third book for the week. I did in fact need it after having raced through Atonement and I also really really enjoyed this book. It is a reflective book – the narrator Tony recounts anecdotes and memories focusing on his childhood friend Adrian and his old girlfriend Veronica and later in the book events start to occur relating to his old acquaintances.
The plot is quite detailed considering how short the book is – only 150 ish pages – and Barnes employs all sorts of tactics for creating suspense, especially withholding information in the form of Veronica. I was kept guessing to the very end and had to do a lot of thinking to actually puzzle out what had happened in the final stages of the book. Despite its short length, I actually felt like the book had just as much depth and detail (if not more!) than most “normal” fiction books of about 400 pages…I guess this is why it won the Man Booker prize.
The characters aren’t very numerous; you can’t introduce too many in 150 pages or they just have no development and it was quite interesting to have the narrator Tony comment several times on his own reliability of narration. One of my friends did an extended project on unreliable narrators focusing on Catch-22, The Wasp Factory and American Psycho so I could spot a few similarities here when Tony was saying things like:
“Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.“
This introduces doubt and questioning for us, as we have to accept that these anecdotes and memories we are reading about may not be 100% true. This is compounded at the conclusion of the book when events and revelations are quite confusing and you do find yourself slightly doubting some things – what really was the relationship between Tony and Veronica’s mother??
Overall, I found this a really compelling read and I thoroughly recommend it. Its shortness and readability make it perfect for travelling or one of those afternoons where you just sit down and read for a few hours. I am looking forward to reading some more of Barnes’ works in the future.