By Julian Barnes
I haven’t yet read the novel, so it’s impossible for me to make comparisons with the written word, but I feel this is a book best heard – as read aloud by a wonderful actor – rather than read myself, listening to the words in my head. So much is in, not just the words themselves, but in the nuance, the interpretations behind each perfect sentence. I really enjoyed having this book read to me. I suspect reading it would have taken a great deal longer than listening to the (unabridged) audio because it’s a difficult book, richly layered, something to linger over and savour.
It’s an ambiguous tale, slippery as an eel; I wasn’t sure, in the end, how one is supposed to feel about Veronica, I suspect that’s the point, everything’s about the point of view. Ask any group of friends what they remember of any one, memorable, shared event and everyone will remember it differently. Memory, it seems, is subjective, time plastic; we don’t understand it and possibly never will. Maybe the theory of parallel universes has something to teach us about the way we travel through life in a bubble, each in our own particular universe that touches the universes of others, but never quite merges, not even with those closest to us. It’s the essence of chaos, small actions have big consequences. Life is unpredictable. We tend to live life blinkered, only our own point of view is clear, pure, unambiguous.
Tony spends the entire book apologising for his past actions – actions that seemed entirely reasonable to me. But that is what we all do, isn’t it? Life seems made of regrets, one after another. We salt the days of our lives with guilt, regret and should-have-beens and, as Tony appears to discover, it only gets worse as we age.
This is a quite remarkable book in that respect. I still don’t know if it was Julian Barnes intention to make us ultimately sorry for Veronica, to see her point, to understand her behaviour. It didn’t have that effect on me, by the end of the tale, I disliked her even more intensely than at the start. Veronica’s a cow, a grade A bitch; I found her behaviour, then and now, inexcusable. It was a shame, what ultimately happened, but I suspect it was largely her own fault – only my opinion, of course, and I wouldn’t mind betting that a dozen people reading this story will all reach different conclusions; it’s that kind of book.
Because we all do it, no matter how execrable someone – friend, family, colleague, even fairly casual acquaintances – has been to us, we lie awake, thinking, going over events, working it through: why did that happen? Was it, just possibly, our fault after all? Did we do/ think/say the wrong thing? Did we bring it on ourselves, are we somehow entirely to blame?
Which seems to me the point of this story, that point of view and the passage of time are all, that trying to makes sense of what transpires is ultimately pointless, and yet we can’t help trying, it’s part of what makes us human.
It isn’t all tied up at the end, there are lots of loose ends, lots of questions; a little unsatisfying, a lot like real life.