“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” This is the seemingly pedantic definition provided by Adrian, one of the protagonists’ in this very slim book of a novel by Julian Barnes, last year’s winner of the Man Booker prize. When that definition of history is read a few times over, one begins to fully understand the import and impact of each word in that framed sentence– and one can’t begin to wonder if that mightn’t be the most perfect way to describe the concept of history, especially one’s personal history.
Which is what this story is all about. When memory is imperfect, documentation is equally imperfect. And yet, from what is left of memory, one may piece together a story that may or may not have the integrity of the facts, but when corroborated by one’s peers, the truth will slowly but surely reveal itself.
With a minimal plot and a most ordinary rendering of the reflections of his life, Barnes creates a most compelling and suspenseful story. Told repeatedly by his old girlfriend that he “just doesn’t get it,” Tony, does indeed get it at the very end. And this realization puts a lifetime into perspective. Barnes’ genius lies in the simplicity that he employs to reveal a plethora of the most difficult and complex features of the human condition. He frequently references the popular song “I have time on my side” to make his case for perhaps the most notable characteristic that he possesses: patience.
And so it is that with a lot of patience and considerable reflection on the manifold interpretations of his past, he pieces together the puzzle of his friend Adrian’s life, and how it is that he himself contributed to it over a period of forty years, all unbeknownst to him.
This is a most clever story that is deceptive in its negligent girth and even occasional boredom and frustration to reveal a most dramatic ending. It will, in the end, no doubt, afford you a most definite sense of an ending.