Booker Challenge Finale: The Sense of a Failure

My failure; not Julian Barnes’.

On Tuesday, Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending’ was awarded the 2011 Man Booker Prize. As I heard the news, I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ words:

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

I was reminded of them, because that announcement of victory of Julian Barnes (after three prior nominations) was also an announcement of defeat for me. It seemed particularly bittersweet on account of the fact that I was still reading the 150 page book, and finding it bland, self indulgent, predictable and boring. How could such a privileged, cliched ramble through an authors fictionalised school days be worth this prize?

I held off finishing, but thought I’d better give myself a sense of closure. As I finished the book, I realised something.

This was a pretty special book.

The indulgent self awareness builds to a specific type of crescendo, and then a sequence of revelations that bring the whole thing tumbling down. The book is precisely about that self indulgent privilege, and what that means for history and memory. In this slim volume, we read a whole life, and in essence, we read it a number of times. We watch as someone’s self deceptions become clear, and fuzzy, and eventually indistinguishable from everything.

It’s an emotional book, and a deep one, and a surprising one. I can’t really give much detail without giving the game away, but it leaves a powerful impression, and is nowhere near as self congratulatory as it appears. It’s not just a house of cards, its an elaborate castle, but it’s just as fragile.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve recovered yet.

I don’t think it’s my favourite book from the shortlist that I’ve read; and it definitely isn’t the most enjoyable; but it is almost certainly the best.

A deserving winner.

Which is annoying, as I was really looking forward to being snootily dismissive of the whole affair.

Alex – Library Officer

You can find copies of the book on the library catalogue here.

Alex is giving up on the Booker Prize shortlist, but the remaining titles can be found here and here.

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About Alex

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