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Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Sense of An Ending...a review of this year's Booker Prize winner..

My 77-year old father, a diabetic, gets up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, as is the case for most diabetics. There, in the middle of the night, a memory of what he did or said 50 years back strikes him, and he feels the pangs of remorse. A remorse so painful that he finds it difficult to go back to sleep. A remorse for which no atonement is possible, for the person towards whom he feels it is dead.
Guilt and remorse is the subject of Julian Barnes' " The Sense of an Ending", and it would be difficult to find a subject more relevant and immediate, because every decent human being has, sometime or the other, felt them.
The slim, 150-page novel is an interesting read, but nowhere reaches the brilliance of an Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love" or Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day", or Golding's "Lord of the Flies", all of them equally compact novels.
Barnes' poses interesting question for those of us who keep looking back at the past: Is what happened in the past really the same as our memories of our past? And what happens, when, by some miracle, you come across a document which shows that you acted much worse than you now remember doing? Is it possible to expatiate for your sins ? Does your expatiation make a difference to the object of your remorse ?
Unfortunately, despite raising these profound questions, Barnes remains unable to solve them. Till today, the final plot is incomprehensible to me. One of the reviewers has commented that one has to look at the novel, from the view point of the last-twist-in-the-end stories, pioneered by Saki, that brilliant short-story writer. Well, all I can say, that Saki's twist in the end is atleast comprehensible..
Anyhow, the book has a lot of quotable quotes, like this one: "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation"...which, if, applied to the Indian context, has historians who are certain that Akbar was secular, since those who were wiped at Chittor have left no memories, and the documentation at hand does not tell us much about Akbar's motives for massacring 50,000 inhabitants, including women and children, in cold blood.
My father? This book is not for him, since his eyesight is so poor that he cannot read, and the object of his remorse, unlike the protagonist's ex-girlfriend, is dead and gone, three decades back.For him will be the remorse, like acid, biting deeply into his soul, making him sadder and sadder till he is liberated by Death...

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