‘The Sense of an Ending’

This is the first book that I’ve read by Julian Barnes and if I’m honest, I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. It was interesting to read this shortly after finishing Before I go to sleep because in both books, memory plays a key role. Our protagonist is Tony, a normal, unremarkable man who finds himself nearing the end of his life and reflecting on various events…you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that this doesn’t exactly grab the imagination but the seemingly simple narrative is complicated by an unexpected suicide and Tony’s unreliable memory…

The first half of the book moves very swiftly through Tony’s life and doesn’t faff around. The second half of the book takes more time to try and piece together Tony’s disjointed memory…I found that my reading pace matched the narrative throughout…I flew through the first half and suddenly Tony was an old man! I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of school life and feel that this sentence sums up the school lives of Tony and his friends…

 “…the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit.”

While at school, the gang of four (previously three until Adrian Finn joins the clique) bumble along quite contently…then a short while after leaving school, they hear that Adrian has committed suicide and Tony and the other boys drift apart…Years later, Tony receives a letter from a lawyer which throws things into disarray and Tony finds himself reliving events from 40 years before and being in that situation that we all hate…remembering times when we’ve said something in youth that we now regret or even doing something in haste that we’ve forgotten about…but are faced with the consequences of, years later.

I’d describe this as a kind of, casserole of a book…a slow starter where a lot of things happen at the outset but then not a great deal happens throughout, but what does happen is important to the protagonist and the narrative. If you take out the mysterious suicide and related events…this book deals quite nicely with the themes of time and memory and there are lots of elements that we can empathise with, even if we aren’t nearing the end of our lives…the moments of childish confusion at school, saying things in haste that we subsequently regret and also, Tony embodies the fear that we all have of finding ourselves aged and wrinkled without having made the impact on life that we had aspired to do as children…the fear that we will grow old and regret not making enough of our lives…

‘To the End of the Land’

David Grossman’s To the End of the Land is an utterly absorbing, harrowing and heart-achingly evocative book.

Unlike some books, we are given quite a long synopsis on the back cover which is very useful due to the depth of the narrative.

From the outset, the book takes you off into a completely different world and into an unfamiliar scenario. Immediately we are out of our comfort zones and this is refreshingly brilliant! Our protagonist is Ora and we first encounter her in a medical facility where she, Avram and Ilan were sent as children. Soon into the first few chapters, we realise that we’re on the cusp of a love triangle but are constantly aware that there is much much more to the narrative than that…

OH MY there was SO much more to the narrative than that!

Suddenly, they aren’t children any more and they aren’t sheltered from the outside world and all the terrible things that happen there…they are in the midst of the Israel-Pakistan conflict and torn between right and wrong, fear and bravery and love and hate in a seemingly unending spiral! Not knowing much about the conflict in Israel/Pakistan meant that I actually learned a lot more about the people of the countries than the political backdrop.

It is impossibly hard to write about this book without firstly giving too much away!

So in addition to the three central characters, we become aware that Ora has two sons and they have been directly involved in the conflict, much to her despair, her youngest son Ofer is re-enlisted at the end of his tour and Ora soon convinces herself that he probably won’t come back from this and that she does not want to be there when they come to tell her that he or her ex Ilan…that he has died so she flees to Galilee…with Avram.Yes, you’ve guessed it…there’s a lot more to the unrequited love triangle than first meets the eye…

I absolutely love books that really focus on people rather than tarring them with the brush of the context. To the End of the Land does just that. In a similar vein to A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Calligrapher’s Daughter, this book shows you the politics, the prejudices, the conflicts etc. predominantly through the people at the heart of the country. It is a wonderful read, difficult at times but it is the strength and realism of Ora as the central character and the focus on the plight of the people in spite of the horrendous ongoing conflicts that make this book so good and so real.

Grossman’s writing is tender, sophisticated and harrowing all in one. This is a wonderful book, which captures the fear, bravery and bloodshed of war whilst keeping love, family and heartache at the forefront.

If you like Khaled Hosseini and Eugenia Kim and if you like reading about strength in the face of adversity, you must read this book, it’s wonderfully and thoughtfully written whilst reminding you that even though all we civilians hear about war is in numbers…there are people behind the numbers, people behind the guns, people with families.

This book is good for rainy days and quiet evenings. You won’t be disappointed.

‘C’

WOW! Tom McCarthy’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel ‘C’ is phenomenal! It’s not like anything I’ve read before, but it’s exactly what I want to read again! I nearly missed my stop on the tube about three days in a row because I was so completely enthralled! Fortunately, I live one stop away from the end of the line so it wouldn’t have been too bad…but knowing me, I’d probably have ended up riding the Piccadilly line until I finished the book!

‘C’ follows the life of Serge Carrefax, through childhood, WW1, the roaring twenties and even to the mysterious tombs of Egypt! Serge’s childhood fascination with wireless technology leads to an adult near-obsession with how things work. His child-like innocence disappears after a family tragedy and although at the time he doesn’t feel the need to grieve…he is overcome with what he feels as a darkness inside, which seems to follow him throughout his life, affecting his perspective on war, relationships and himself.

We get swept along with Serge through the war, witnessing (as he does) the horrors, but arguably being more affected by them than he is…through the 1920s where he discovers more experimental ways of escaping his troubles…and finally to Egypt where he delves into Egyptian mythology and finds himself at the beginning of literary modernism! Throughout the novel, Serge is at the forefront of technological advances…he was even born to the sounds of the wireless!

McCarthy’s writing is so clever. Although Serge is our protagonist, it becomes apparent that the main theme is the onset of modernity, which “surges” (sorry!) through the events as they unfold…he is a fascinating character from beginning to end…and ‘C’ is exactly the kind of novel that has been missing from the shelves!

An outstanding book which definitely deserves its place on the shortlist and has a very good chance of winning this year’s Man Booker Prize!