In 163 pages author Julian Barnes sketches a most insightful book on the passage of time and life history. Using a plot line that begins with four adolescent friends and a few supplemental characters, and telling the tale with the first person intimacy of one of the young men, an evocative reminiscence takes the reader through school days and into late middle age.
Tony Webster is in his sixties when he is left, from an unexpected source, an unusual bequest which causes him to reexamine his life. In doing so, he brings the reader along through what on the surface seems to be a very ordinary chronicling of a very ordinary life. However, the reader quickly discovers that while Tony gives all the commendation for life’s deeper moments to others, he is far more discerning than he gives himself credit for. Through Tony, Julian Barnes funnels some of the most profound components of the human journey, including the lesson that life is seldom as transparent as it appears to be on the surface.
Julian Barnes’s writing is so fabulous that I think I wrote more quotes in my journal than I have from any other book. Here are a few of my favorites:
He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; he thought logically, and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reason to justify it.
But time...how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we call realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time...give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical. (ellipses included in original text)
When you’re young-when I was young-you want your emotions to be like the ones you read about in books. You want them to overturn your life, create and define a new reality. Later, I think, you want them to do something milder, something more practical: you want them to support your life as it is and has become. You want them to tell you that things are OK.
It is a very, very infrequent occurrence that I say that I think a book is destined to become a classic, but this one bears many of the hallmarks. The themes of friendship and love, the slide of time that cannot be held in check, and the life elements universal to every generation make this a read that will feel just as relevant to my grandchildren as to me. I loved this book and recommend it for all readers high school and older.