I have a love-hate relationship with literary awards. I love them because they provide me with countless tales to add to my ‘must-read’ list. I hate them because, oddly, they can make me feel strangely inadequate intellectually when I simply do not like or ‘get’ the overall winner. Is it me or is it the literati, the doyens and doyennes of all things literary and wonderful that are best to judge what makes a novel brilliant? I battle with this notion constantly which leads to me to a heart-breaking confession. I have read The Catcher in the Rye three times. It is supposed to be one the great American novels that defined a generation of readers and writers. I did not enjoy it. Three times. All I can say to you J.D. Salinger is that I tried.
Thankfully 2011’s Man Booker prize winner left me with no such feelings of inadequacy. Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending was an absolute delight to read; a real pleasure. It’s fairly short but doesn’t suffer from that. The character development of protagonist and narrator Tony Webster unfolds beautifully. His personal journey of self-discovery and reflection is not ground-breaking but Barnes beautifully weaves Webster’s journey through moments of his personal history with his current dilemmas.
There are no big tricks in Barnes’ prose. It is a simple tale about a man’s reflections on his fairly unexceptional life. But the journey is wonderful and the few surprises we are given are welcome and thrilling.