Tag: Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 12)

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of In the Woods by Tana French

Let’s take a look at the next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French, from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary:  Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surrounded their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

 Characters

Author Tana French’s characters are well-drawn and complex. The first person narrator is Detective Rob Ryan (the one who survived the earlier event).  He reveals on the second page of Chapter 1 that he might be an unreliable narrator when he says,  “And I lie.”

His partner is Detective Cassie Maddox, a young woman who also might have some personal demons.

The two detectives have been partners for a couple of years before the story starts. Their bantering, close relationship is the best part of the book.

“Behave yourself,” I said, pulling her hood over her face.
“Help! I’m being oppressed!” she yelled through it. “Call the Equality Commission.” The stroller girl gave us a sour look.
“You’re overexcited,” I told Cassie. “Calm down or I’ll take you home with no ice cream.”

 

Setting

The main setting is a patch of woods near a small neighborhood in Dublin. Rather that being just a simple backdrop, the mood of the woods changes with situations throughout the story:

  • from a joyful playground,
  • to a terrifying trap,
  • to a sad final resting place,
  • to a contentious construction site.

 

The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises — rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teams with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye.

The Plot

I recently attended a workshop where the presenter suggested deconstructing eight key components of plot in a novel as a way to learn the craft. Let’s see how it goes.

1. The hook – The purpose of the hook is to grab and hold the reader’s interest. Because most readers decide whether or not to continue on with a book after reading the first few paragraphs to first few pages, it is important to make the beginning sentences really count.

I already discussed the beginning of the book in an earlier post, but to summarize, in the prologue the author does a good job of making the reader wonder what’s going on with the kids and want to read more to find out.

2. The set up – This is where the author introduces the characters, reveals details of their world, and presents the problem that is central to the story.

The character and setting introductions work well. Readers are drawn to Rob and Cassie. They have a cool relationship.

The story problem is multi-layered, which adds complexity. The main problem is to figure out who killed twelve-year-old Katy.  Underlying that problem is what happened to the three young children twenty years prior and is it related to Katy’s death?

3. The obstacles – For a successful story, the characters need to overcome hurtles and learn from their mistakes. Sometimes the obstacle is simply moving down the wrong path or following a red herring. There are several red herrings in this story, including mysterious strangers.

The biggest obstacle which hinders the investigation is Rob’s past experiences.  His emotions roil as memories surface.  For example, he messes up in court when he is supposed to give evidence for another case.

4. The side story – This is a subplot that is not directly involved in solving the problem, but that adds a sense of realism and depth.

The side story is easy to spot in this novel. There is also a side character, another detective named Sam O’Neill. His part of the investigation is to figure out whether Katy’s death was politically motivated due to conflict over a proposed road construction project. Personally, I found the side story to be rather flat, although perhaps that’s what the author intended.

5. This Changes Everything! – Toward the middle of most novels there’s a time when the rug is pulled out from under the hero. Something occurs or is discovered that defies the reader’s expectations and wakes him or her up.

This component wasn’t as clear (or handled in such a straightforward way). Right about the middle (roughly page 210 in this 429 page book), Rob remembers witnessing a rape in the woods as a child. It doesn’t change things drastically, but he and Cassie pursue it.

The biggest shake up comes near the end/climax when Rob’s boss finds out Rob was involved in the earlier case. That really does change everything.

6. The escalation – The section that is push to the climax of the story. Often the pacing becomes more intense, and the ratio of dialogue to narration shifts to more dialogue.

The pace does pick up as the detectives hone in on the killer.

7. The climax– When everything comes together and the reader finds out who did it.

This is where In the Woods really departs from the norm. Instead of a satisfying resolution, suddenly Rob’s life is turned on its head. His boss finds out about his past, he sleeps with Cassie and then withdraws from her which destroys their partnership, and the person who instigates the murder turns the tables on them and gets way with everything. Instead of everything coming together, everything falls apart.

8. A satisfying ending – Again, the novel doesn’t follow the mystery novel blueprint. It almost seemed like two endings.

In the “first ending”, we do learn who kills Katy, which is the solution to the primary problem. The fact that the instigator escapes is not satisfying, but it works.

On the other hand, almost nothing is revealed about the earlier disappearances. If anything, things are murkier. In this tacked on “second ending” Rob wanders around, his life in shambles.

If this novel was a stand alone, the first ending would have been sufficient. As part of a series, however, the less satisfying “second ending” makes sense. The author is probably setting things up for the next novel. It is possible that solution to the older mystery isn’t revealed until much later in the series, if at all.

___________________

What did you think of the plot deconstruction? Did it enlighten, or was hard to follow?

I learned a few things about my expectations as a reader and how I would approach things as a writer.

Discussion

For the most part, I enjoyed this novel, but I did have one issue with the story line (besides the unsatisfactory ending). In contrast to Rob who is up front that he lies, Cassie does not lie unless forced to do so by her job. This character trait made it less believable that she would go along with Rob when he hides his involvement in the earlier crime from his boss. Even with her close relationship with Rob, it didn’t ring true that she would allow him to blatantly jeopardize both the case and their careers. Of course, as the main character Rob needed to be involved in the mystery for it to work, but it would have been more realistic — and have added another layer of conflict — if Cassie had revealed Rob’s past connection to her boss right away and Rob had had to fight to be included at every step of the investigation.

According to Book Riot, reading In the Woods isn’t the best way to start the series. largely because of the problems I mentioned with the ending. Jessica Woodbury suggests starting with the fourth book in the series, Broken Harbor, because of how the characters reoccur. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

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. 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 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Number 60. In the Woods by Tana French

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, In The Woods by Tana French

This post does not contain spoilers.

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Summary: Twenty years before, three young children disappeared into the woods that surround their Dublin neighborhood. Only one survived, and he can’t say what happened. Now he’s a police detective faced with investigating the murder of a young girl in the same woods.

This award-winning novel is the first in a series of six featuring the Dublin Murder Squad.

Have you read In The Woods by Tana French? 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 In The Woods by Tana French? 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 59.  The Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011) – Discussion begins May 28, 2018
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Gabby moves to small town Beaufort, North Carolina, to be nearer her long-time boyfriend and hopefully soon-to-be fiancé.  She just happens to buy the house next door to a good-looking, adventurous, and fun-loving confirmed bachelor, Travis.  A series of mishaps and misunderstandings (typical romance novel set-ups) brings these two together and sparks fly (or we’re expected to believe sparks fly).  Can you tell I wasn’t buying it?

This post contains spoilers.

The Choice* by Nicholas Sparks

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

A Tale of Two Romances

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wasn’t referring to our last two romance novels, but that’s how I felt after reading Me Before You and The Choice back to back.  Me Before You gave the reader the best that romance novels can offer and The Choice gave the worst.  Me Before You created memorable and believable characters; The Choice offered two clichéd main characters and a supporting cast that we barely got to know.  The plot of Me Before You presented each of the main characters with life choices to make and allowed them come to realistic decisions; The Choice had a Hollywood-scripted plot and the pro forma happy (unrealistic) ending.  Me Before You gave me renewed hope that romance novels were worth reading; The Choice only reinforced my previous belief that romance novels aren’t worth my time.

The Choice

This novel is split into two parts.  Part One presents Gabby’s dilemma: will she listen to her head and stay with her long-time boyfriend whom she expects to marry or will she listen to her heart and build a life with her neighbor Travis, who has turned her life upside down in a whirlwind romantic weekend.  But as Roberta writes in her Writer’s Review, due to the prologue, we already know which choice she makes, so there’s no suspense and no emotional investment by the reader.

Part Two presents the Real Choice of the novel: will Travis follow his head regarding Gabby’s specific instructions concerning her present medical situation (a long-term coma) or will he follow his heart.  I found Part Two to be even more clichéd and unbelievable than Part One, if that is possible.  Where Gabby was too much in her own head in Part One, dithering back and forth between her choices, in Part Two it is Travis’s turn to bore the reader as we are forced to listen to his feelings of guilt over the accident that caused Gabby’s coma and his anguish about the resultant choice he must make.  Truthfully, by then, I ceased to care.  I won’t even go into just how unbelievable Gabby’s remarkable recovery was from her long-term coma – it was the expected happily-ever-after ending, but totally unrealistic.

The Right Choice

 If you want a feel-good, tear-jerker, realistic romance novel to read this summer and you have two choices on the shelf, Me Before You by JoJo Moyes or The Choice by Nicholas Sparks, do yourself a favor and spend your money on Me Before You.  You won’t be disappointed.

Have you read The Choice by Nicholas Sparks? 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:

__________________

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 60.  In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Discussion begins May 14, 2018
Mystery

#BestsellerCode100: Writer’s Review of The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

Let’s take a look at  The Choice by Nicholas Sparks from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

The Choice* by Nicholas Sparks

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Travis Parker is happy being a bachelor. However, when he meets his new neighbor Gabby Holland, his life turns upside down.

The Choice was made into a movie that was released in 2016.

Genre

Like our previous novel for The Bestseller Code challenge, Me Before You, The Choice is a love story/romance. Also like our previous novel, it strays from the typical romance format as the love interest has health problems due to a severe car accident.

Where the two diverge, however, is that in Me Before You, the complications add depth, making it a compelling story. In contrast, in The Choice, the complications are a formulaic attempt to gain sympathy and instead distance the reader.

Why did one work and the other did not?

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

 

Incorporating Emotions In Fiction

In fiction, readers like to be touched by what they read. They like to experience what the characters are going through, and get swept away by their emotions. Many authors struggle, however, with how to authentically incorporate emotions into their stories.

There are several ways to write about a character’s emotions. One technique is to simply name the emotion, such as “George felt happy.” It is best to avoid this method for several reasons. First of all, it is telling the reader, rather than showing, which leaves the reader flat. Also, people tend not to be all that aware of their emotions, so naming them outright is unrealistic.

People are much more likely to be aware of the physical sensations they experience when emotional.  For example, ” The muscle in her neck that always tightened when she was under stress began to twitch.” The secret with this technique is to use sensations that are universal enough so the reader can recognize them, but that are not overused or cliché. Raising eyebrows, rolling eyes, or a heart hammering in the chest are examples of physical descriptions that are overused.

Experienced authors have even more tools. They may reveal a character’s emotions through their actions, through metaphors, through punctuation (Oh no!), or through the use of the objective-correlative, which involves using objects, descriptions, or situations to convey a particular emotion.  A simplified example of the latter might be, “She pressed her nose into the roses, hugged the chocolates to her chest, and smiled up at the forest of balloons bouncing overhead.” The roses, chocolates, and balloons are all things related to happy events, so the reader can infer the character is happy.

Comparison

So, why does The Choice fall flat?

Nicholas Sparks incorporates plenty of emotions, but he tends to name the emotions.

Molly was sitting near the back door, her tail thumping, and Gabby felt anxious at the thought of the future.

or

He was still sitting at the table, feeling slightly shell-shocked, when he spotted his sister approaching.

 

To be fair, he also uses physical descriptions:

Her heart squeezed again, and this time she tried to hold on to the feeling.

In contrast, in Me Before You:

“I — I’m Lou.” My voice, uncharacteristically tremulous, broke into the silence. I wondered, briefly, whether to hold out a hand, and then, remembering that he wouldn’t be able to take it, gave a feeble wave instead. “Short for Louisa.”

It probably helps that it is in first person, but can’t you sense the intensity of her nervous awkwardness , even though she never says directly she’s feeling nervous?

Discussion

I didn’t enjoy this book for several other reasons, in addition to the flat emotions.

The characters were inconsistent. In the beginning Gabby, who has a job as a physician’s assistant, accuses Travis’s dog Moby of fathering puppies with her dog, Molly. This rang false with me, because even lay people can tell a neutered male dog from an non-neutered one. A medical professional should definitely be able to tell. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt because maybe Moby was far away in the distance at all times (except he wasn’t).

When her dog Molly gives birth and has a medical problem, Gabby definitely should have known right away what it was and I suspect should have been able to give first aid, rather than simply rushing off. Yes, in real life people are inconsistent, but that seemed excessively so.

It was also apparent that Gabby and Travis were going to get married right from the beginning. Novels work best when they create mysteries that keep a reader guessing and wanting to read on to find out the answer. The minimal tension that did arise seemed artificial. Gabby had to make a decision, but because she wasn’t the main character, we could guess what it would be.

Overall, The Choice works too hard to try to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, and leaves them feeling nothing instead.

 

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. 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 60.  In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Discussion begins May 14, 2018
Mystery

#BestsellerCode100: Number 61. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe Choice by Nicholas Sparks.

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Choice* by Nicholas Sparks

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Travis Parker is happy being a bachelor. However, when he meets his new neighbor Gabby Holland, his life might just turn upside down.

The Choice was made into a movie that was released in 2016.

 

Have you read The Choice by Nicholas Sparks? 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 Choice by Nicholas Sparks? 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 60.  In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Discussion begins May 14, 2018
Mystery

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Categorized as a romance novel, Me Before You is not your typical romance story.  It’s an engaging take on the Pygmalion story, Worldly Rich Guy (Will Traynor) meets Low-Aspirations Poor Girl (Louisa “Lou” Clark), takes a liking to her, and decides to widen her horizons – only in this story we have a twist.  Worldy Rich Guy has suffered a debilitating accident that left him a quadriplegic and he no longer wants to live.  And, of course, Low-Aspirations Poor Girl falls in love with Worldly Rich Guy and wants to save his life.

This post contains spoilers.

Me Before You* by JoJo Moyes

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

A Love Story

 Me Before You is a refreshing and captivating love story.  In addition to its unusual plot, author JoJo Moyes gives us realistic characters and believable dialogue.  The interactions between both Lou’s and Will’s family members ring true.  Lou drew me in immediately and I quickly forgot I was reading a book for the purpose of writing a review and instead lost myself in the story.

It was expected that Lou would fall in love with Will – this is a romance, after all.  But in a true romance, love conquers all, right?  So it’s a bit of a shock when it becomes apparent that Lou’s love isn’t going to change Will’s mind.  What does change is the quality of those last weeks at the end of his life.  Lou provides Will with a challenge that has nothing to do with his own physical challenges, that of broadening Lou’s horizons.  What began as Lou’s challenge to give Will a reason to live becomes Will’s challenge to give Lou a wider world to live in.

Life Meaning

Me Before You compels the reader to contemplate on the question, “What is a life worth living?”  Is Lou truly living or is she just allowing life to happen to her?  Does Will, looking at a life of continually diminished horizons and increasing pain, have the right to decide when he no longer considers that life worth living?  Rarely does a romance novel tackle such difficult questions, but Moyes manages to do so with finesse.

I enjoyed Me Before You much more than I expected to – I find most romances to be too sappy or juvenile.  Jojo Moyes shows that a romance can be a true-to-life love story without the fairy tale “happily-ever-after” ending.  Because of that, I’m looking forward to reading the continuing story of Louisa in the sequel After You.

Have you read Me Before You by JoJo Moyes? 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:

__________________

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 61.  The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (2007) – Discussion begins April 30, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes Writer’s Review

Let’s take a look at  Me Before You by JoJo Moyes from a writer’s perspective.

This post may contain spoilers.

Me Before You* by JoJo Moyes

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it; I wanted to reread it.

Quote from New York Times reviewer Liesl Schillinger

It is easy to agree with that sentiment.

Characters

Louisa Clark is an unremarkable young woman who is a bit adrift in her life. At twenty-six, she still lives with her parents, grandfather, and sister, Katrina (Treena). She has a boyfriend, Patrick, but he seems far more interested in running than in her. When she loses her job at a restaurant, she answers an ad for a companion, where she meets Will Traynor. Will was left a quadriplegic when he was hit by a car. He lives with his parents and has a nurse named Nathan.

Louisa takes the companion job, but struggles at first. Because this is a romance, Will serves as the “lost soul” archetype.  He is brooding and tortured, often ignoring Louisa or taunting her. Eventually, he begins to warm up to her spunky personality.

When she learns that Will intends to kill himself at the end of six months, Louisa decides to try to convince him that life is worth living. Will she succeed?

Narrators/Point of View

Louisa Clark, the protagonist, narrates the most of the book from the first person point of view. About half way through, however, some of the chapters switch to other character’s points of view, including Will’s mother, father, Nathan, and Louisa’s sister. It was a bit startling to hear from different characters so far into the book, but Moyes felt it was necessary to add more depth to their stories.

The change of narrators may be significant because many of the books picked by the computer algorithm for The Bestseller Code challenge list have alternating narrators or voices.

 

me-before-you

 

Discussion

There is much to savor in Me Before You. The writing is smooth and without pretension, which makes it effortless to read. Jojo Moyes pulls readers in and takes them on an intense emotional journey. It is hard to put the book down once you start.

The issue of assisted suicide adds a lot of depth to the story and takes it well beyond the typical romance. What inspired the author to explore it? In the back matter, Moyes reveals she has two relatives who require constant care, but it wasn’t until she read about a young rugby player who committed suicide after he was left quadriplegic by an accident that she decided to tackle the topic.

As a side note, Moyes isn’t the first novelist to have a quadriplegic character or to explore the difficult topic of assisted suicide. For example, Jeffrey Deaver’s main character Lincoln Rhyme is a criminologist who has only limited movement. In the first novel of the series, The Bone Collector (1997), Rhyme has contacted a doctor to evaluate him as a candidate for assisted suicide. Almost immediately, however, he is drawn into a case and he puts it off.

In Me Before You, some of the “smaller” aspects of the story are especially well crafted. The tension between Louisa and her sister is one example. When Louisa asks for Treena’s room when Treena goes off to school, a battle of words ensues that rings so true to anyone who has a sibling. It is pitch perfect.

Although it is a bittersweet, heartbreaking romance, the writing in Me Before You hits all the sweet spots. It is a wonderful example of how to craft a novel.

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. 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 61.  The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (2007) – Discussion begins April 30, 2018

#BestsellerCode100: Number 62. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listMe Before You by JoJo Moyes

This post does not contain spoilers.

Me Before You* by JoJo Moyes

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   When Louisa Clark takes a job as a companion for Will Traynor, she learns he had an accident that left him in wheelchair. Can she convince him that life is still worth living?

 

Have you read Me Before You by JoJo Moyes? 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 Me Before You by JoJo Moyes ? 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 61.  The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (2007) – Discussion begins April 30, 2018

#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?

 

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. 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

Older posts

© 2018 It's A Mystery Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑