Tag Archives: this month’s selection

“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes, 2011

 

 

 

IMG_3069The Sense of an Ending deals with endings of relationships and lives as Tony Webster, now retired, attempts to reconcile aspects of his past with the present.  The two other central characters are Veronica, his mysterious first girlfriend in college, and Adrian, his intellectual high school friend, who is in some ways his polar opposite. In his 60’s, Tony receives a letter informing him that he is named in the will of Veronica’s mother.  He has been out of touch with Veronica and her mother for forty years and the letter serves as a catalyst to revisit his student days and retrieve Adrian’s diary from Veronica, which was bequeathed to him by her mother. Back in the 1960’s Adrian struck up a relationship with Veronica shortly after she dumped Tony.  After a few months or so, Adrian, then a freshman at Cambridge, makes a philosophically based decision to end his life.   Years pass as Tony has lived an ordinary middle-class life; marrying Margaret, having a daughter, Susie, and divorcing Margaret. Now he looks up Veronica for the diary and ruminates about all the social missteps of his life.  Some unexpected facts about Veronica, her mother, and Adrian emerge.  Tony completes his journey back into the past with disquiet and self-reproach: “You get towards the end of life–no, not life itself, but of something else: the end of any likelihood of change in that life.  You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question: what else have I done wrong?”  ….”There is accumulation.  There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest.  There is great unrest.”

We all reflect back on moments in our lives, some with more acceptance than others.  This book takes a close look at that and offers insights into how we see our past. Tony has shown us a more pessimistic view.  He, for example, regards Adrian’s youthful suicide as having more integrity than his lifetime of letting things happen to him.  He lacks the acceptance of his mediocre outcomes and minor transgressions which are the consequences of his lifelong insecurities and passivity.  This reader would like to see him close the circle and find his peace, but the author chose to end on the note of ‘unrest’.

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“Angel” by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one)

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

This month’s selection is the novel, Angel, by the English author, Elizabeth Taylor who lived between 1912-1975 and published this work in 1957.  Sharing the name, Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most recognizable household names of the 20th century, apparently had an ironic effect for this author. She is said to be considerably underrated. This is my first introduction to her and I liked the book and plan on reading another one of her’s soon.

The story takes place from the late 19th century up to the late 1940’s in England and centers on a teenage girl who becomes a highly successful, though amusingly bad, romantic author.  Angel is a strong-willed person who sees everything her way with little impact from others, be they her mother, aunt, school friends, teacher, publisher, husband, etc.  She has a strong imagination which becomes the wellspring for her rise to fame and fortune when channelled into her writing.  Since she also sees the external world through her lens of fancy rather than as things are, it brings her both her success, and shields her from the wrath of critics and the reality of her eventual downfall.   Angel has little or no regard for the feelings of others except for a man she is becomes infatuated with and later marries. He, in turn, has no regard for any one except himself and marries Angel for her money while carrying on affairs with other women. After decades of writing and after her husband’s death, her popularity fades and she falls on hard times financially. She dies in her decaying mansion “Paradise” which was the catalyst for her imagination and writing in the first place.

The book is full of irony and has an undercurrent of humor that is continuous throughout most of the book, though less present in the latter part.  It is these two elements which really made reading this book so enjoyable for me.  The story touches on themes of loyalty, good versus bad art,  pandering to the public versus striking ones own course, and most of all perhaps, objective reality verses fantasy. It is a fairly sympathetic view of a popular best-selling literary hack, by a considerably more talented and underappreciated author, and therein lies the final irony.

This story was adapted into a movie in 2007 by Francois Ozon and is available at the San Francisco public library on DVD.  The movie has minor plot alterations and doesn’t convey the humor in the book. Romola Garai carries it well as Angel and the film is visually rich. Below is the trailer:

Bill Sargeant

One degree of separation

This page is for books and materials other than the monthly selection which are closely related to the monthly selection by one or more salient characterists: i.e. books by the same author, books covering the same time or place, a movie, play, song, poem derived from the selection of the month, a book or other work which served as a source for the monthly book, a book connected by theme, style, etc .  The goal is that the link will lead to new books or works to explore, and at the same time, will reflect back on the monthly selection to further enhance our understanding and appreciation for it.