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Showing 1-10 of 103 reviews(2 star).Show all reviews
574 of 646 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2011
Julian Barnes is a good writer, and it's not hard to forgive him for the fact that he has either overestimated the detecting abilities of his readers, or he has not made his case thoroughly even if he intends to be a bit mystifying.

Can anyone answer these questions? I would be so grateful!


1) By the end of the novel we know that Adrian, in fact, is the father of Veronica's brother, who is mentally disabled in some way, and that his fatherhood may have had something to do with his suicide, or maybe nothing at all to do with it.

2) We know that Veronica's mother betrayed her own daughter, first to Tony, when she advised him not to let Veronica get away with too much, and then presumably with Adrian with whom she conceived a child.

3) We know that Tony believes that Veronica may have been abused by her father or brother as a child, but are we meant to think that, in fact, Veronica has been abused by her mother instead? Are we to believe that Veronica has systematically furnished her mother with young men over the years? Otherwise, why do Veronica and her brother and father go on an early-morning pre-breakfast walk the Saturday morning that Tony is at their house, leaving Tony and Veronica's mother alone? Is the whole family in on it? Does Veronica's mother want to have a child? Nothing untoward happens between them, except that Tony might have seemed rude or discouraging to her purposes when he cuts off a line of questioning about the nature of his and Veronica's relationship.

4) WHY does Veronica's mother leave 500 pounds to Tony? What does it mean when Veronica tells him that it's "blood money."

5) And, really? Everyone thought this was a brilliant book even though it made very little sense? It didn't pan out as a study of the elusive quality of memory; nor did it seriously address the question of what constitutes history--it didn't even broach those questions or conditions very broadly.

I thought the novel was interesting, but either it failed at it's purpose through over-subtlety, or I am simply not clever enough to unravel its meaning. Certainly the latter is possible, but it's not interesting enough on its own without a conclusion.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2012
Actually, this novel doesn't have a sense of an ending. In fact, I may be finished with fiction, might I? I grant you Julian Barnes is a fine, fine writer. I admire him. But I can't admire this novel, and what does that say about my concern for fiction? The plot centers around a bit of a bland narrator, Tony Webster, his college days and friends, his first "girlfriend," a suicide of one of his friends at age 22, Tony's marriage, which ends in divorce, and Tony's attempt to understand his personal history, the history of his friend and girlfriend, and so on and so forth. Adrian, the friend who committed suicide, defined history as "...that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."

So Tony, after forty years, tries to construct his history and runs up against these very obstacles. The girlfriend, Veronica, remains a bizarre enigma as she was forty years prior, and the mystery of Adrian's suicide still remains a mystery unless one takes his suicide note at face value of giving back an unwanted gift of life. Yet there's more to this than that, isn't there?

One thing I found vexing is Tony's habit of ending sentences with a question. Isn't it vexing to do that? It's smug isn't it?

Frankly, I'd rather read actual history than this fictional history. I did find the first part of this novel quite engaging and entertaining. In fact, I thought it would continue on in this way. But it took a turn and got old, didn't it?

Sorry all. This second part just didn't get to me. And I'm sure this review will receive very little sympathy, but I'm at least being honest, aren't I?
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2012
This book left me cold, and it is no comfort to be told by one reviewer after another that it is an "exploration" or (worse) "discourse" on the nature of human responsibility and/or the fallibility of memory. These comments, I think, reduce the story to a disguised intellectual exercise--something to be solved and thus understood. And that may be the problem with this book-- it is pushed forward by ideas rather than by characters who come to life with any momentum of their own. That may make this a clever novel, but not a satisfying one. And that's a shame because Julian Barnes is a great writer with a gift for creating deeply felt, believable characters, as he did in the marvelous Arthur and George. Hope to enjoy his next one more.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2012

On the plus side, the book is an extremely easy and quick read.


The characterization is poor - the narrator, Finn and Veronica are flat and still unknowable at book's end. Barnes gives only the faintest hints why Veronica is compelling, or Finn is interesting, because, you know, we all have compelling girls in our past and chaps at school who were smart and intriguing, and besides other books by other authors describe what that's about. I defy anyone to describe the other two guys at school a day after reading the book. Veronica's father and brother are standard issue - they reminded me of a poor man's Brideshead Revisited - and the narrator's ex-wife is just a narrative device.

The one characterization that worked was the light touch with Veronica's mother. But the trick ending, and Veronica's stonewall didn't feel believable. Oddly, there really was little connection between the narrator and the main story.

To be fair, the gist of the book is a mulling on memory, that we don't remember correctly, that what we knew at the time may be wrong or highly biased. But that's a common theme, and I don't think this book adds anything to the genre. It may be true that what we know about school chums is superficial and transitory, but then why write about it?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2012
Well-written and has an enigmatic storyline that draws one in. Certainly found myself needing to turn the page to find out what it is that the protagonist 'doesn't get'. Although containing plenty of enjoyable reflections on youth and aging and the many changes in perspective and memory accompanying each phase of life, I found myself increasingly annoyed by all the characters in the book as I progressed, ultimately making reading through a chore -- the only thing that kept me going was the desire to found out just what this mystery was leading to. In the end a MacGuffin is used to resolve everything, which I found highly unsatisfactory.

This book doesn't go anywhere, although it promises to early on. Might spark some self-reflection, but again really falls apart towards the middle and end in terms of narrative and characters. Also leaves many points unresolved and often unclear in a way that, to me, is more annoying than thought-provoking. I recognize that one of the themes explored is the question of how difficult it is to know anything, but I didn't need to read the increasingly meandering thoughts of an annoying set of characters through to an implausible ending to gain a better appreciation of that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2013
A friend raved about this book so I hastened to get it and read it. Thank God it was as short as it was. I found it to be more boring than anything else I've read in a long time. But I stuck with it because I was sure something wonderful was coming up, according to the breathless blurbs on the back cover. But I was disappointed. Now that I see on this site there are so many readers who thought it was as good or better than the editorial review raved that it was, I have serious self-doubts about my own intelligence, perspicacity, and general culture. God, it was boring! The narrator, Tony, had a serious case of low self-esteem, a huge inferiority complex. But not Veronica, who thought she was the greatest when really, she was a terrible person. And MEMORY! It was deified, mythologized, as though Tony was the only person in the world to employ this very common brain-function. Even dogs have memories and reportedly, elephants the best. So what was the big deal about memory? We all have our memories which we revisit frequently, imbuing them with varying shades of meaning and importance. It's a given that often memories are seen in a new light when sufficient time has passed. It's one of the oldest novelistic devices. And Tony got very tiresome with his mea culpas, and also descriptions of his expertise in self-pleasuring. Another bone to pick: the teenage pronouncements made in school were meant to sound profound, especially Adrian's. They were sophomoric, typical youthful spouting, no great relevance there to the path of the story. I think the author pulled a fast one. He is skilled with words, especially those not written, so readers had their great expectations for the story, but yet, at the end, had to form their own constructs of what in the hell it all meant. Sorry, I don't mean to be harsh, but that's my feeling. If someone wants to point out the errors in it, please have at.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2014
Only continued to read to see how a prize could be given to such a meagre work. The narrator's entire life hardly exists, his emotions hardly exist (he is meant to be unreliable as well, so there are a few "revelations" which hardly help him or the novel). Well, things are meta, you see, and memory is tricky, reality shifty, life is ... Unknowable ... And we get a dry discourse or at least a comment on this on every page. The plot is this:guy loses girl to friend, friend kills himself, 40 years later the old girlfriend has diary. What is in the diary? Thisnis the McGuffin for most of the novel, very tiresomely. We never get to see the diary. We do learn in the last pages that the suicide had an affair with the ex's mother who gave birth to a special needs kid. That's the melodrama. Otherwise none of these people -- throw in a few more secondary ones -- had more than a life the average sixteen-year-old has in a week. This is called minimalism along with the meta, producing nothingness, very gripping. Gave it a star for the style which in a small dose isn't bad but hardly can carry the weight of nothingness (say the rhythms and humor of Beckett). Ended up skipping though the novel is quite short, not more than a short novella on steroidal repetition. Oh, and I think in all the unknowableness, maybe the ex had been damaged by the father or brother -- I read this speculation somewhere -- and the mom was getting back or just seeking solace. But I have a theory the great-grandfather who was a bigwig aristocrat was once raped by a goat. Just sayin'.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2012
Julian Barnes is a lovely writer, but the story just fell flat at the end. It is gorgeously rendered, beautifully describing the plot and character development, and economical in a way I really appreciated. The story fell so far apart at the end, I actually had to go back to re-read it because I thought I missed something. Tony Webster may have been developed to be somewhat socially inept as a younger man, but I failed to believe that he "just did not get it" as is repeated endlessly. It felt false. And Veronica is incomprehensible as a character. I felt manipulated by the end of the book. Needlessly manipulated.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 15, 2012
I have never thought of myself as someone who liked action but perhaps I am, after all. Which reminds me of the time my husband, a lovely fellow, if a bit too inclined to take me for granted at such times, and I went to the picture show and saw an action movie that he, alas, wanted to see and I did not, I being a woman not inclined toward that kind of entertainment. I ended up, to my eternal surprise, no thanks to the snacking going on all around us, liking the film quite a lot.

But I digress. My point was, I don't like this book at all, and if it hadn't been for book club, I wouldn't have soldiered on to the end. And my first paragraph here is my little imitation of the writing style of "The Sense of an Ending." If you like that circuitous, wordy, but nicely written paragraph, you will likely love this book.

He can definitely write, he uses words beautifully, and the kernel of the plot here is okay. But I found myself incredibly impatient, wishing he'd just get to the point, instead of weaving words and having his character express side thoughts (every single one of them, apparently) in this fiction. I mean, after all is said and done, and I'm done reading, what was the point? I found myself asking, not unlike the main character. I found it very tedious and completely self absorbed, like sitting and listening to an old man talk about his life and his thoughts, what he thought when THIS happened, and what he thought when THAT happened, for hours and hours.

Recommendation: For lovers of writing for writing's sake, and fiction enthusiasts who enjoy reading the books that are nominated for literary awards. Not my cup of tea at all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2014
It's a small tight world when Mr. Barnes ends up getting the coveted Booker prize. In honesty, gret artists don't come around often. Take someone like Graham Greene, whose books are still so brilliant and alive. It seems, the more praise given to these contemporary writers, the worse they get over time. I think of what happened with Jeffrey Eugenedes' latest after his very good, MIDDLESEX. And what of John Irving? Who really needs to stop writing altogether.

Despite some deft touches and flecks of humor here and there-- I failed to see what was so noteworthy in this read. There's a dull flat quality to the writing--as if the characters are in one room and the narrator, in another. What this is is an upper crust Englishman looking back at his privileged education at Cambridge and predictable, very ordinary recollections of silly school boy recollections--a very bad move in impregnating the wrong woman one inebriated night-- and everything traipses into predictability. So the story is, life moves on, the protagonist gets older, so what else is new? A melancholic looks back at a's a very common theme that leaves you flat.
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