I am going to start off saying that I liked this book. Maybe my problem with the book isn’t so much the book itself, but that I had people telling me that it was the best story they had ever read in their entire lives.
I don’t know about you, but I differentiate between writing and story. Hunger Games: fantastic story, decent writing. Eragon: Great story, the writing faltered a little, though. Anna Karenina: gorgeous writing, and sometimes he lost the story thread entirely.
Maybe they loved Julian Barnes’ writing. I will say that it is pretty much flawless, in terms of pacing, but much of the story is fairly dry stuff. The book is a novella where the first part of the story is the main character, Anthony, telling the stories of his school days. He describes the friends he spent time with, the girls they loved. The second part of the story is him looking back on his life, and how his desire to paint a rosier picture of his own thoughts and actions made his memories and thoughts of the past wrong, sometimes horribly so.
The second part of the book I enjoyed immensely, and watching how the past changed and became clearer, every time Anthony lost a self-delusion, was gripping. Like the most melodramatic onion-peeling ever. Lots of twists, great revelations. Examination of the concept of memory, and how fluid it is.
I was left with the feeling that the beginning of the book had no purpose, other than so the author could write the ending. I’m not sure that will make sense to anyone else, but I can’t think of another way to put it.
Try not to read the book jacket. It won the Man Booker prize, but to use my earlier point, most of the prizes given out for books focus on quality of writing, not quality of story. It almost seems like if a prize-winner has a good story, it’s just a coincidence.
Also, there is now, for the TP edition, a new comment, by A.D. Miller, on losing the Man Booker to Julian Barnes: “It was like losing to Brazil in the World Cup final.” What does that even mean? You lost, but you lost to the best? Some soccer fans really hate Brazil. If he had lost, he risked being killed by the book-lovers of his country? When he loses, he loses with style? My mind just wouldn’t leave this alone. It interrupted my reading at odd moments. Completely distracting. If you need to consider this, consider it now, before picking up the book. Maybe he just wanted to say something that sounded positive, without actually praising the book.
By all means read this book, but set aside any preconceptions you have about it first. And then just enjoy it as an interesting little mind diversion, crafted with grace.