Some great experiences happen just by chance. So it was with the book The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Saturday noon, I dropped by the library looking for a book. I could not find it, but picked this one since the doctor had it on his list. The Mrs discovered a quiet reading room in the library and wanted to spend the day there. It was actually pin-drop silent (no electronic devices allowed), had luxurious seats and was filled with folks who were reading quite seriously. I ended up having a fantastic reading experience and was able to finish off most of the book in literally one long sitting.
I like books and movies that focus on a few well fleshed-out characters and details. This book was just that! It is two recollections by the narrator. The first recollection is around his mid-20s. He describes his high school life, his three close friends and his first short-lived love after he joins university. The second recollection is in his old age. He has had a marriage, a child and a divorce. Life comes full circle and he is forced to mull over and act on his old memories and the loose ends are quite tragically tied up.
After reading this book, I am kind of embarassed that I had not heard of Julian Barnes earlier. That is because the quality of writing in this book is nothing short of fantastic. Especially the first part of the book, which is just exceptional. There are many great passages that you chew over, re-read and think of sharing later but give up since there are so many of them. The characters are so well etched that they remain memorable even after you are done with the book. The plot is actually a bit weak, especially the ending. But boy can Barnes squeeze a tale out of it! I ended up reminiscing a lot about my past life while reading the book and many good novels do that to you.
The Sense of an Ending is a great read, a book I highly recommend. It is also pretty short and since it is almost un-put-downable, can be easily finished in a day. If you are looking for some brilliant literature look no further.
A beautiful piece by Haruki Murakami that I read recently in the New Yorker made me pick up his collection of essays titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること). The New Yorker piece is an excerpt from this book, where he talks generally about two aspects of his life. The first is how he got started on writing and his writing habits and process. The second and complementary aspect is how he started running, his one-marathon-per-year schedule, how he trains for that and how running is a huge part of his life.
These pieces cannot be called essays, but are more like long diary entries, which actually makes them more personal. These were written during the 2005-2006 period which he spent in Hawaii, Boston and Tokyo. During this period he trained and ran the New York Marathon and a triathlon back home. There is no unidirectional flow to the writings, they ramble anywhere from recollections of his 20s to his present self at the time of writing. It is important to note that by the time he writing these essays, he is well established and famous author. Not only is he churning out his own books, he also writes short stories and does translations of current novels in English for a Japanese audience back home. In short, he is not a struggling author, he has offices in both Japan and USA, with staff handling his publication and PR.
The book as a whole is a good read. The writings themselves range from fantastic reads to good ramblings. Some of the earliest pieces which talk about his life before writing, how he started writing and how he started running are must-reads. The latter half of the book where he mostly shares his experiences of training and running various marathons would be interesting only to runners (I guess). What comes through though is that this man is extremely hardworking and professional in all aspects of his life. He writes every day and runs every day, no matter how his mood is. Even at his past-middle age, he is so well honed in both of these that he regularly runs marathons (and triathlons!) and churns out highly-rated novels. It is wonderful to see the process revealed by the person himself.
The book is a short and quick read and a must for Murakami fans and those interested in running. It also acts as a good insight into the author himself, probably the closest he will come to an autobiography.