A book about aging, regret and the mutability of the past. Middle-aged Tony Webster lives an unremarkable life, quietly getting on with it and content with his lot. But as he looks back on his teenage and university years, things start to replay and shift in his memory.
An unexpected bequest from the mother of an ex-girlfriend sets things unravelling – Tony just “doesn’t get it.” Until on the last page he does.
Barnes is an amazing craftsman, keeping the story smoldering gently to the end. His meditations on aging and remorse – etymologically, Tony points out to “bite again” – ring true, and the fact that the past will eventually bite back becomes “philosophically self-evident.”
This book is proof too that a well-edited and concise piece of writing (the book is only 150 pages) can evoke an as convincing – or even more so – world as a 600 page tome. The descriptions of the adolescent friendships – their rituals, phrasings and preoccupations – in the first half of the novel are utterly plausible and I suspect drawn heavily on Barnes’ own philosophising, self-assured youth.
Perhaps the older man looking back on the mistakes of his youth is an obvious narrative form and indeed I’ve read a few of these recently, but this is far from formulaic or even at all predictable. The story itself is so subtle, it’s the telling of it that is so absorbing.
More here: www.julianbarnes.com