Category: Literary Fiction (page 1 of 2)

#BestsellerCode100: Combined Review of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending

Rather than writing separate reviews of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes this week, Karen and Roberta have decided to write a combined review.

This post contains spoilers, because in this novel the ending is everything.

The Sense of an Ending* by Julian Barnes

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Tony Webster has been through a divorce and retired from his job. He is looking forward to a quiet existence when some old school friends come back into his life. Are events from the past as he remembers them?

The Sense of an Ending is literary fiction and won the Man Booker prize in 2011.

Does the title follow the best practices laid out by The Bestseller Code?

Karen:  The title, The Sense of an Ending, refers to two suicides, or endings, that are central to this novel.  In the beginning of the book, Tony reveals that an older student at his school died by suicide and there is great speculation among the students as to the reason.  No official reason is given to the students, which makes them even more curious and leaves them to rely upon rumors for answers.

Near the end of Chapter One (there are only two chapters in the whole book), Tony learns that Adrian, one of his schoolmates, has also died by suicide.  Adrian left a note for the coroner stating a lofty, philosophical reason for ending his life, but as we find out at the end of the Chapter Two, his reasons were anything but philosophical.

The Bestseller Code tells us that book titles can be names in several ways:

  • Refer to physical settings
  • Capture an event
  • Point to things, typically common nouns
  • Point to a character (usually the protagonist)

Here, The Sense of an Ending obviously refers to the ending of a life (or two lives).  But can there really be any sense in ending a life in such a manner?  Just as in real life, the family and friends Adrian left behind struggle to come to terms with his suicide and the reasons for it.  The reasons author Barnes gives us for both suicides are no easier to accept.  So, while The Sense of an Ending is an appropriate title for this novel, I felt it was misleading to the reader.  I had no sense, no final understanding, when I finished the book; instead, I was confused as to the character’s reasoning and the author’s meaning.

Roberta:  Yes. I found the reasoning for Adrian’s suicide particularly flimsy.

Did you notice anything in particular about the characters?

Karen:  Most of the previous books we’ve read have had multiple narrators, allowing us to come to a more complete understanding of all of the character’s motives and memories.  In The Sense of an Ending we only have Tony’s viewpoint, and by the end of the story we can see that Tony is a very unreliable narrator, with faulty and selective memories.  The only other characters that could provide us a clearer picture of Tony’s story  are his ex-girlfriend Veronica and his ex-wife Margaret, and yet they are both frustratingly cryptic.

Roberta:   I agree. Up to now it has seemed that the computer algorithm has been picking novels that contain alternating or a variety of narrators/voices, which makes this one an unusual choice.  Having a single, unreliable narrator, plus a limited cast of characters, tended to be both frustrating and claustrophobic.

Is Julian Barnes breaking the fourth wall?

Roberta:  Was there any change in voice that the computer could have detected? The only difference I noticed in narration is that Julian Barnes seems to be speaking directly to the reader at times. For example, on page 113 he writes,

“Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does:  otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that’s different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later:  between twenty and thirty, say. And after that, we’re just stuck with what we’ve got.”

Changes in character is something that writers ponder, because we are taught we should develop a “character arc” when writing fiction. That is, our characters should experience growth or decline over time for the story to be compelling. Character development probably isn’t something a non-writer like Tony Webster would spend much time contemplating, so the discussion seemed out of place.

On the other hand, it may speak to the author’s theme of our memories being of our own creation. Perhaps our perception of our own character is shaped by the stories we tell ourselves through selected and manipulated memories? Was Tony self aware enough to think about this? I doubt it.

The setting was minimal. Why?

Roberta:  Tony Webster lives in England. Apparently his environment is not important to him, however, because  the setting is barely mentioned. When it is described, it is in an offhand, causal way.

Only two locations stand out, both of which are referenced obliquely in the opening paragraph. The first location that Tony describes in any detail is Kent, where he goes to meet his girlfriend Veronica’s family at their home. Her dad points out a few landmarks that he realizes later are false. Tony clearest memory is of  a basin in his room in the attic, which he uses as a urinal.

The second memorable setting is a trip to see the Severn Bore. The Severn Bore is a tidal surge that causes a large wave to travel inland through the Severn Estuary near Gloucestershire. Tony is quite taken with how the water changes direction.

The lack of setting gives the novel a dreamlike quality.

Karen:  Instead of dreamlike, I thought it felt vague, just as Tony seemed vague about so many details of his life.   Nothing was sharp or crisp about the setting, nor the story.

 

Public domain photo from Wikimedia

Discussion

Karen:  If Julian Barnes’s intent was to write a head-scratching novel, he did just that.  I suspect, though, that his intention was to provide his readers with a thought-provoking novel on the unreliability of personal memories and the “story” we tell ourselves about the life we lead.  Unfortunately, for me, I’m still just scratching my head, trying to decide if it would be worthwhile to read this book again in the hopes of elucidation.

Roberta:  I suspect re-reading would not help much. I think he was intentionally vague. More about that in a minute.

Julian Barnes is interested in memory. In his memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, he wrote:

“Memory is identity….You are what you have done; what you have done is in your memory; what you remember defines who you are; when you forget your life you cease to be, even before your death.”

I was disappointed, however, in his treatment of memory in The Sense of an Ending. At the center of it all, Tony selectively forgot that he had sent  a cruel letter to his friend Adrian. By forgetting, he avoided the trauma of perhaps being complicit in his friend’s death. There was nothing unusual or unexpected in this scenario. It was pretty standard based on what is known about the science of memory. I guess I was hoping for more profound revelations.

But in another way, maybe the author’s intent was less straightforward. As Karen pointed out, Julian Barnes left a lot of gaps in the story. If his aim was to allow each reader to create his or her own “memories” of what they read based on incomplete data, then it might have been a clever way to help the reader experience things the way Tony did. Not a pleasant experience, but a lifelike one?

 

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 62. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes ( 2012) – Discussion begins April 16, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 63. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Sense of an Ending* by Julian Barnes

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Tony Webster has been through a divorce and retired from his job. He is looking forward to a quiet existence when some old school friends come back into his life. Are events from the past as he remembers them?

The Sense of an Ending is literary fiction and won the Man Booker prize in 2011.

The Sense of an Ending

Have you read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. We did a combined review for this novel

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 62. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes ( 2012) – Discussion begins April 16, 2018
Romance

The Funny Little Errors in The Goldfinch

I have been noting little errors and inconsistencies while reading The Goldfinch, and I thought I’d document them. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the book. I love the book. The quirky flaws make it even more precious to me.

By the way, this isn’t a full review. I haven’t even finished the book yet.

 

The first inconsistency is right on the first page. Main character Theo says he doesn’t know a word of Dutch, then a few sentences away he refers to the people as dames en heren, which is Dutch for ladies and gentlemen. This particular error is probably intentional and tells the alert reader that Theo is a bit of an unreliable narrator.

Later errors are probably not intentional. For example, in the hardcover version on pages 248-249 Theo and his friend Boris go shoplifting at a “discount supermarket” for “…steaks for us, butter, boxes of tea, cucumbers…” Shoplifting at a grocery or convenience store wasn’t an unreasonable scenario, and I didn’t think a thing of it until Donna Tartt reveals the store:  Costco. I burst out laughing. Costco is a mega warehouse store that only sells in bulk. The packages all contain multiple items. You wouldn’t steal a single steak, you’d have to hide an enormous pack of five steaks. Then you’d have to get them past the security check. Costco stations people at the door to look you over and read through your list ticking off your purchases. Let’s just say it isn’t likely Boris and Theo would shoplift at Costco if there were any alternatives, which there were.

My husband does woodworking, so I immediately noticed on page 418 that Hobie is using “cramps” to hold his wood together. British and Australian woodworkers use cramps. In America — and presumably New York City — we call them clamps.

The Bigger Picture

A lot of readers have noted that the drinking age isn’t eighteen as suggested in the book, but is in fact twenty-one. Maybe Tart was channeling her own inner teenager, which was from an earlier time?

Other reviewers have also pointed out errors in the technology used at various points. I’m a bit more forgiving about these because let’s face it, it took the author ten years to write the novel and technology changed so much during that period. With some 771 pages to keep track of, I would be more surprised if she had been able to stay consistent.

To me, all these little imperfections are rather like the scuff marks on a fine piece of antique furniture or the bubbles in a delicate pane of old glass. They give the novel a unique character.

That said, I’d like to let Donna Tartt know that if she needs a fact checker for her next novel, I’d be more than willing to volunteer.

#BestsellerCode100: Number 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The blurb: Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker survives the accident that kills his mother. Because his father left him, the family of a friend takes Theo in. Struggling with his grief and the changes that have occurred, the teenager clings to a small painting that reminds him of his mother. But there’s more to the painting than anyone suspects.

The Goldfinch took Donna Tartt a decade to write. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

 

Have you read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. Funny Little Errors in The Goldfinch

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Number 70. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, 70. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, along with many other major awards.

Summary:  We follow the story of Oscar Wao, a young man of Dominican Republic descent who lives in New Jersey. All he wants to do is find love and write like J.R.R. Tolkien, but will his family’s curse destroy his dreams?

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – Discussion begins January 9, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014

#BestsellerCode100: Number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

It is time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: An example of an epistolary novel, main character Balram Halwai writes about his rags to riches story as he leaves behind his impoverished Indian village to establish his own taxi business.

Although Aravind Adiga was only 33 when he published this debut novel, it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.


Have you read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? Feel free to add a link to your review here.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 74. A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan (2000)- Discussion begins October 30, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 84 A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.

This post does not contain spoilers.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This novel follows the lives of Baltimore residents Red and Abby Whitshank and their four children.

It is literary fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

Have you read A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion begins.

The next book is number 83. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) – Discussion begins July 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Olive Kitteridge Wrap-Up Poll

Time to wrap up the discussion of our latest novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The conversation started here.

Note: Post does not contain spoilers.

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

We are reading these books because they were picked by the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers as the best of the bestsellers.  Do you agree with the computer that this book should be on the list?  Why or why not?

 What was your final opinion of Olive Kitteridge?

Do you agree with the computer that this novel is one of the best of the bestsellers?

 

You can also join us on social media:

___________________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 92. One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Number 93 Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This title won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO mini-series.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Olive Kitteridge* by Elizabeth Strout

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Book Blurb:  Olive Kitteridge lives in the small town of Crosby, Maine, where she touches the lives of those around her and is also changed by their presence.

To give you an idea what the book entails,  check out this trailer from the HBO miniseries.

 

 

Have you read Olive Kitteridge? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

Have you written about Olive Kitteridge? Feel free to add a link to your review here.

Join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is 92. One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Time to start the discussion of novel 97 from The Bestseller Code 100 list, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, previously published as The Other Hand.

This post does not contain spoilers.

Little Bee: A Novel* by Chris Cleave

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The novel explores the relationship between a young Nigerian refugee and suburban Londoner who was recently widowed.

From the Amazon page for the book:

“We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.”

 

bestseller-code-100-97-little-bee

What did you think of Little Bee? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts (upcoming throughout the next two weeks):

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4.  After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey about whether you thought this novel belonged on the list of the best of the bestsellers.

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about Little Bee? Feel free to add a link to your review here.


__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 96. The Last Child by John Hart (2009) – Discussion begins January 2, 2017

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