Friday, April 20, 2012
If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.
Corners of buildings. Collins Street, as seen from Wellington Plaze, Hobart. April 2012.
Two great reads this week from two exceptional authors. First up is a sequel that I never knew existed, Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. Following on from Cannery Row, it is set in the years following World War II. We reunite with those characters who made it through the war. There is a little more plot and less vignette in this one, and ultimately it amounts to a love story of sorts.
Love, duty, happiness and loneliness are the central themes here and the story progresses at great speed to a satisfying conclusion. Although I enjoyed the book very much, and would strongly recommend reading it in companion to Cannery Row, I can't help but feel that it was somewhat slighter in tone. But maybe that was just the more upbeat ending!
Second up is Julian Barnes' prize-winning The Sense of an Ending. A tightly focused novel that relies heavily on a single narrative voice, it both demands and compels a very close reading. It is an incredibly effective book that really requires the reader return to the beginning upon completion in order to understand just how (and if) all the pieces fit into place.
We do get some warning. On the very first page our narrator states that “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed”, a sentiment that the reader must keep firmly in mind as we join him in his reflections on past events. Thus, there is a fair bit of work in store and we attempt to fill in the gaps of the story. Much of the narrative relies on what is not said. Indeed, the (conceded) gaps in both the narrator’s memories and his perception are crucial to the story.
This is a book of memory. The central premise of the book tracks the origin of one particular memory through a long and apparently dull life and brilliantly explores the tricks and diversions of our memories through an explanation of one man's story that beautifully leaves traces of unease that remind us of our own inconstancies of thought.
Just about every paragraph in this book has multiple interpretations. Questions are (partly) answered, but still the reader is left in the same state as our narrator about the essential 'unknowableness' of life’s essential mysteries, no matter how hard we try.
I really (REALLY) enjoyed this book. I think that it is close to perfect as it could be. It is perhaps the stand-out I've read this year, and I have read a few five star efforts. Very highly recommended!