Tag: Literary Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

“There was, it seemed, no Eleanor-shaped social hole for me to slot.” 

A part of my mind appears to have grown old, very old. Although its back is bent and its joints hurt, it’s leaning on a walking stick, determined to keep walking. Unfortunately for me, it is this part of my mind that controls my reading. Fortunately for me, that determination is rather strong in the face of everything. Anything could block its path, but it doesn’t look like it’ll give up. Or so I hope.

sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-book-one-teaaspoon-cellophaneWhile I was browsing NetGalley sometime last year, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine caught my eye – whether it was the title or the cover, I can’t say. I requested for it but sadly did not get a copy (it says “Your request is pending”, but when half a year’s gone by, you know it’s never gonna be approved). So I got a copy from elsewhere – bang in the middle of my reading block (that I’ve written so much about that I think it’s unnecessary to refresh anyone’s memory). It took me a while to finish it – a much longer time than a book of this length and this excellence warrants. But that old part of my mind is hella persistent! The fact that this book is what it is surely helped my determination.

Is Eleanor Oliphant completely fine?

The book introduces us to its socially inept protagonist as she is going about her day, monotonously, following her time table. She’s often ignored (sometimes teased) by her colleagues who cannot quite figure her out. Eleanor is aware that she isn’t whom they consider “normal” or “ordinary” or “regular”, but she constantly feels it is they who are weird. Her life pretty much revolves around her job, her bottle of vodka, and weekly calls with her mother. One day, she runs into her colleague Raymond from the IT department. They see an old man collapse on the street and take him to the hospital.
This incident sets off a series of changes in Eleanor’s life.

At first, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gave off a distinctly A Man Called Ove vibe. The fact that both Eleanor and Ove are misanthropes is probably what contributed to it. Also that they’re both trying to purchase a computer without much of an idea what kind of a computer they’re looking for. But this is where the similarities end.

Don’t get me wrong when I say this – I liked A Man Called Ove, but not nearly as much as everyone else did. I don’t think it deserved all the hype it received. Yes, it was heartwarming and sweet, but it isn’t the best book I’ve read nor will it come close. Eleanor Oliphant is on a whole other plane of brilliance. It’s a book with a pulse – an undercurrent. Every page of it made me feel like there was something under its skin. Something moving, restless, angry. What the title doesn’t give away is this book’s darkness. A darkness you’re surrounded by but one that doesn’t consume you (think of how pissed off Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen made you feel). It isn’t present to shock you, but you are aware of it. Like I said, it is an undercurrent. The first couple of chapters do not point to it, and yet, there’s an unsettling feeling in your heart – you know something is about to happen and not everything is as it seems on the surface.

The last chapter practically took my breath away. It is not shocking in that deliberate way (again – think of Eileen and the tricks its author employed only for shock value), but it creeps up on you, lingers without attempting to do so.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a book that you must experience, not just read. Its subtleties and nuances need to be felt. It’s a story of strength and acceptance and it speaks to you without trying too hard.

And you close the book feeling, in spite of everything, completely fine.

Amazon | Goodreads



First Thoughts: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy


I would like to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing much happens, there’s lots to write about. This can’t be done in Kashmir. It’s not sophisticated, what happens here. There’s too much blood for good literature.

Q1. Why is it not sophisticated?
Q2. What is the acceptable amount of blood for good literature?”

image1The air was filled with anticipation a couple of months ago when the world woke up to the news that Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, was coming out in June 2017, 20 years after her first novel, the Booker Prize winner The God Of Small Things.
Her first novel not only happens to be one of my favourites, but also happens to be the only book that I’ve read three times. I read it the first time because it was my then best friend’s favorite book, and I hated it. I was disappointed in Ms Roy, and more so in myself for failing to find whatever it was that my friend found in it. Almost ten years later, I picked it up again (I can’t say why – once a book fails to impress me, it usually goes into my pour-vitriol-over-this pile). It may have been a whole other book, because I found myself falling in love, page after page, line after line. The reason why I hadn’t liked it the first time (and let me be the first to admit it) is that I hadn’t understood a word of it!

The third time was last year (two years after my second reading), and I discovered many things I had missed the previous time. I won’t be surprised if two years from now, I’ll be reading it a fourth time, discovering even more things, hidden in plain sight.

That is the draw of Roy’s writing – the nuances, the layers. The strength of its subtleties. It does not reveal itself at once and it does not reveal all of it unless you’ve revisited it a few times, with fresh eyes each time.

To follow in the shadow of something that’s both widely loved and extremely successful is a monumental task (siblings, teachers, lovers, ministers, they will all vouch for this). The weight of expectations alone would crush it, and in the case of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, add to it, the 20-year gap. Whispers of anticipation in the crowds of readers and writers aside, I decided to plunge in with lowered expectations to be fair to the book. But the first page said, “To, The Unconsoled.” The second page was a quote by Nazim Hikmet, “I mean, it’s all a matter of your heart…” The third page was a story of vultures dying, and on the fourth page began the first chapter titled, “Where do old birds go to die?

I can’t say what it was about those first four pages, but I felt like I’d been kissed for the first time.

The book begins with the story of Anjum, who lives in a graveyard and sleeps on a different grave every night. It is she who poses the question, “Where do old birds go to die? Do they fall from the sky?” and receives a stony silence in response – the effect she was hoping for.

And because Ms Roy can never tell a story with a linear timeline, we go back to take a glimpse at Anjum’s history. Anjum, who was once Aftab.

In this way, several other main characters are introduced – Saddam Hussein, Musa, and the woman who carries the story on her shoulders – Tilo. Each of these interconnected stories is laid against the backdrop of the Indian political climate – especially the volatile situation in Kashmir. From the militants, to the military, to the Holy Cow, to the cow-related lynchings, Arundhati Roy holds nothing back. She writes about a certain former CM, current world traveller, and his rise, in a way that’s a political satire as well as black comedy as well as horror. The line, “A devotee gifted him a pinstriped suit with LallaLallaLalla woven into the fabric. He wore it to greet visiting heads of state.” made me laugh out loud, just as the account of the 2002 riots filled me with rage. It is no wonder that this is a book that will more than just upset Lalla’s insecure troll army (*cough* saffronparakeets *cough*). I imagined a Nazi Germany-like scenario where this would be one of the first books in a pile to be set on fire (and I hope someone like Liesel Meminger will rescue at least one copy).

At first I felt the book had too much of non-fiction in it to qualify as a work of fiction. I even wondered how much of Tilo was Ms Roy herself (much like I thought about Rahel from her first book). I had reached about four-fifths of the book when I understood, truly understood, what the book was about. I took a few moments, sitting very still, to process it all – to process how the various parts worked together. In the beginning, I was a little put off because there were too many characters – they took away from the reading experience, but by the four-fifths mark, I understood they were all a part of the same tapestry, and they were all essential.

My knowledge on the subject of Kashmir is too limited to form an opinion. A conversation I had with someone from Kashmir a while ago tallies with what is written in the book, and my mind kept going back to that conversation as I read. But I have so many questions, and I wonder whether there will ever be a solution.

Reading this book made me feel that every other author (with the exception of maybe Salman Rushdie) should just retire and go home. I didn’t intend to write this review at first. The reasons were many – including the fact that I know I will read it again, and discover new things and this review will then seem unjust and insufficient. If I said the book is about India and its new regime, I would not be wrong. If I said it is the story of Tilo and Musa, I would not be wrong. Or even if I said it is the story of how a graveyard turned into a guest house, I would not be wrong. But in all these cases, I would not be right either, because while it may be those things, it is also much bigger than the sum of its parts. Someday I hope more writers write as fearlessly as Ms Roy, shattering rose tinted glasses and the comfort of common ignorance. And to acknowledge that is why I decided to go ahead and share my thoughts.

From a literary standpoint, a few things to note: the (irritating and fascinating) non-linear timeline. I call it the one-step forward, three-steps back timeline. Those who’ve read The God of Small Things are familiar with this style. Others will find it confusing at first. Those unfamiliar with Indian politics will also find it difficult to follow the story, or at least to connect with it. I found the prose to be less… musical… that her first book, but that’s just me.

On the whole, an excellent and bold piece of writing that’s unassumingly charming, yet somehow aware of itself. It is dark and terribly disturbing, yet poignantly romantic. If I had to choose, I’d still choose The God of Small Things over The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. At the moment, I do think her first novel is superior to her second. But call me after ten years and see if I’ve changed my mind.

Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads | Amazon

How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby

“What you don’t catch a glimpse of on your wedding day- because how could you?- is that some days you will hate your spouse, that you will look at him and regret ever exchanging a word with him, let alone a ring and bodily fluids.”

8577083How To Be Good begins with Dr Katie Carr in a parking lot asking her husband David for a divorce over the phone. She thinks this scenario would be highly unlikely if her life were a movie. But then she has had enough. David is selfish, whiny, and even his newspaper column is called The Angriest Man in Holloway. Katie has spent her life living carefully, trying to be a good doctor, a good person, a good mother. But now she’s gone and had an affair with Stephen, and she’s here in a parking lot asking David for a divorce. Over the phone.

For a lot of reasons, I loved this book. Acutely observant and precise, How To Be Good paints a very credible picture. Hornby’s writing is witty and even depressing scenes have been written in a darkly comic style. The splendid intricacy lies in how the characters seem deceptively simple, but are so realistic in their own way. As a reader, you want to take sides because that’s the kind of characters we’re used to. But you can’t, in this case. I was a little disappointed by Katie’s ultimate choice, but can’t say I was surprised. It only added to the story’s credibility.

My one issue with the book though (and this is a big one for me) is the ending. I hate open endings. I just hate them. I’ve read this far, at least give me closure, but no! Why do authors do this? Why do people like this? I know a lot of people who love open endings (please spare me the “but you can interpret it in so many ways, isn’t that bril?” No.) But they’re not for me. When I get to the end and it’s an “Open-for-all”, I know that the author probably had something in mind; no one decides to leave a story hanging that way, and I don’t want to form my own ideas – I want to know what that particular thought was in the author’s mind they wrote that particular ending. And not knowing drives me mad. Just mad.

What do you think of open endings? Yay/Nay?

Goodreads | Amazon

New Release | Manipulated Lives, by H. A. Leuschel | Summary and Excerpt


Manipulated Lives
Five stories – Five Lives


Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere.  At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way.  They are often masters of disguise:  witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual.  First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father.  Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

Genre: Novellas, Psychology, Literary

ISBN: 978-1534708976

Date of Release: 8 June 2016

Word Count: 85,445

Amazon | Goodreads

About the Author

Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.

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The Spell

He had a small, delicate body, thin legs and arms, and a torso that was short and fragile. He almost looked supernatural, like a beautiful version of an elf, with his startling light blue eyes and hair as dark as charcoal. Later on, when we were as familiar with each other as a mother and son would be, he wrapped himself warmly around me like a shawl or a small monkey anchored to his mother’s body for the day. His lightness added to my initial impression that he looked like a beautiful, fantastical character who’d walked straight out of a children’s picture book, yet I quickly found out that my female instincts to protect him were undeniably linked to a human child whose cheeks reddened with exertion and whose occasional stroppiness could only be found in the very young. And I need to tell you right from the start that he is not my son, because I am not his biological mother. Yet, we would have both liked to have been each other’s family and, for a short while, we actually were. I know that because of the way he looked at me, the way he snuggled up whenever he saw me, and the way he always saw goodness in me. He had the capacity to make me melt there and then and I would forgive him instantly for small tantrums or cheeky retorts. He seemed to endear himself to my laughs and smiles and I loved his thin, fine fingers reaching out to claim a hug, one of so many he desperately needed.
You will wonder whose son he was and why he is no longer with me; and I will tell you why, so that I don’t go crazy with grief and so that our story, and the stories of those who were involved in it, may come to convey how life can deal you a difficult card.
I met Leo’s father shortly after meeting my little guy. That was a nickname I’d frequently use for my new and very special friend. Leo was a grand name for a small person with fluffy, wispy dark hair and a voice that never carried far, yet if you took the time to lower your ear towards his words, you would be enthralled by their wisdom. This child was unusual in so many ways. Leo loved to sing and that was exactly how I noticed him, sitting by himself in the kids’ play area which was part of the private sports club I frequented. He was singing a little song to himself and seemed very happy with his own company. I had just turned thirty and was already well acquainted with young children, thanks to my sister’s and my brother’s growing families. I just loved being their hands-on, and fun-loving auntie, and therefore making eye contact with strangers’ children came naturally to me.
However, when I turned my head towards the sound, the owner of the voice was nowhere to be seen. I was relaxing in the club’s café, adjacent to the play area, and had just ordered my usual cup of matcha green tea latte with a slice of fresh cake, well-earned, I thought, after a very demanding and dynamic yoga session. I looked at the green mix of tea and foamed almond milk and took a sip, enjoying the bitter-sweet taste. I was half-way through the thick raspberry-filled cheesecake when I heard the singing again. My fork stopped in mid-air as I listened more carefully. It was the funniest melody I had ever heard. He was copying the lyrics of a popular song, frequently aired on the radio at the time, so I caught on to it very quickly. However, it was unusually out of tune. Not only was the voice squeaky and mouse-like but the intonations were all wrong. I stifled a laugh, telling myself that this was incredibly cute, and I looked up once more to try and find the unusual singer. I couldn’t see him fully at first, but a few of his black wisps of hair were sticking out above a large, soft cushion which gave him away to my probing eyes. Convinced now that he was the singer I was looking for, I lowered my gaze further and widened my eyes with surprise. I had locked onto a big set of blue eyes, peeking round the corner of the cushion, looking straight at me. It was as if he’d deliberately sung again, to see whether I’d notice him. Questions were forming in my mind. Did he notice that I had been listening? Worse, did he know that I had been amused? I was taken aback, to say the least, and made sure he wasn’t actually looking at his own parent, by checking the people sitting beside and behind me. No one seemed to take any interest in the little fellow. So, I just smiled and he smiled back and our first meeting was sealed.
We had somehow found a secret understanding which was the base for a series of encounters that led me to talk to him, ask his name, and find out why he was on his own and query who was looking after him. He told me not to worry because his dad had left him to play while he was doing a ‘round’. That’s how he had put it anyway. I know now what he meant by rounds but, initially, I had been appalled. To leave a small child to his own devices was bad enough, but to do it for a few hours was criminal in my view. Why I had not reported it then, I don’t know. My excuse was that I’d built up a special relationship with a little chap, who became my friend before his dad did. Had he not been there, I don’t think I would ever have spoken to David. I imagined him as a small person himself, maybe even a Woody Allen type of a man, pale and skinny with big glasses, but my imagination was proven wrong when I finally did set eyes on him.
It had been a dark and rainy day when I eventually ran into David. I had decided to not only linger a bit longer at the sports club in the hope that the torrential rain would ease off, but also because I was wondering who the mysterious dad was. When I finally laid eyes on him I was pleasantly surprised. The man was tall and broad, his eyes blue, and his face was surrounded by wavy black hair. I could tell that he’d only just left the shower because his hair smelled clean and moist. His cheeks were still flushed from doing exercise and a big smile revealed a set of straight white teeth. He was a good-looking man, but with a strange insecurity. I would notice later that he did like to keep his T-shirt on to hide his waist, only slightly pudgy, when sitting by a pool or walking down a beach. Despite being ten years my senior, he had kept well-toned arms and legs and his voice carried far. The fact that I had met his son before I’d met him was the reason why we struck up a conversation.
‘Oh, so you’re the amazing Sophie who my son’s in love with!’ Of course, my cheeks burnt upon hearing this, as if I had been found out doing something illegal. He hitched his sports bag over his shoulder and we exchanged a few pleasantries, heading to the warmth of the café with a beaming Leo in tow. After some small talk, we ended up in front of two glasses of wine and an apple juice for Leo, who was chatting happily over a plate of pasta bolognaise. To this day, I cannot tell why being fond of a little boy had meant that I trusted his dad more quickly than any other stranger.
‘I must admit that I wouldn’t have picked you among a group of potential dads,’ I said eventually, with a cheeky grin. Alcohol had that effect on me that even half a glass of wine could easily loosen my tongue.
‘Yes, I know you probably wonder how this little fellow could be my son.’
I reassured him that I had met a family with three children as a child and had seriously wondered for years how they could even be remotely related to their parents. They each looked so different; had features that could not be connected to the others.
‘He must take after his mother,’ I said casually. David instantly seemed to change. My words must have struck like lightning because, as soon as they were out of my mouth, they took a life of their own and caused him to hunch up, lower his eyes, and twist his fingers. I also noticed a nervous tapping of his foot, which added to the overall unease. I had said the wrong thing or, at least, I must have said it in the wrong way, I thought. David’s friendly, jokey mood had changed to a clammed-up posture and the atmosphere turned awkward. What if Leo’s mother had died? Or maybe he was his step-dad? Many scenarios were plausible. How insensitive of me.
‘I’m very sorry for saying that.’ David raised his hand and waved it dismissively, reassuring me that no harm was done. No further word was mentioned about the mother and I decided to leave it at that until he would maybe be ready to explain himself. Looking from David to Leo, I concluded that at least their hair colour and the lightness of their eyes were strikingly similar, two features that could connect them clearly as father and son. But what I was really thinking about at that very moment was, Is there something wrong with the little fellow? He’s so small. I was curious to know why Leo was the way he was. I knew I had spoken too quickly, but sensed that talking about Leo’s mother was completely taboo.


Wages of Love, by Kamala Das

“Like other women writers of my class, I am expected to tame my talent to suit the comfort of my family.”


I remember reading a poem by Kamala Das in school. It was part of the English literature syllabus. I had heard Kamala Das’ name whispered conspiratorially between my parents, but I never knew why. (I had also heard Arundhati Roy and Neena Gupta’s names mentioned in those very same tones, on different occasions). So when I found a poem by her, I was wildly curious. I hoped to find a glimpse into the adult world of literary gossip. I found nothing; I did not even like the poem very much. I was perhaps too young to appreciate Das’ direct way of expressing thoughts, being more used to as we were back then to rhyming poetry about sunflowers and daffodils and such.

When they saw me read a poem by Kamala Das, my parents casually remarked how she wasn’t very good. I was easily influenced (still am) and so I nodded my head in agreement. Similar casual (snide) remarks followed, with my mother going rather ad hominem and colouring Kamala Das as an example of what a writer – and more importantly, what a woman – must not be. I did not press for details, but I smelled a scandal.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when someone (who intensely dislikes me) read my blog and commented that I write like Madhavikutty (Das’ pen name). I felt proud, humbled, and insulted all at the same time! The childhood bias was still present, I suppose; however, being compared to a splendid writer such as herself did wonders for my ego, even though I knew I was nowhere near as good. The sad thing was, I had never read any of her works, apart from that one poem.

Fast forward again to last week, when Amazon Kindle decided to treat us all with some cash to buy any ebook of our choice. As to why I chose a Kamala Das book, I’ll never guess (given that I have several other books on my TBR, and hers is one name that never really crossed my mind), but that is, as you can see, what I chose. Sometimes, our instincts know.

Wages of Love is a collection of short stories, plays, poems and essays compiled by Suresh Kohli. It starts with the short piece “The Fair-Skinned Babu”, the story of a contract killer. Its ending gave me goosebumps. And with that, I was hooked. Das’ writing is as raw as it gets. Poignant and melancholy, set against a sepia tinted background. Stories such as Neipayasam will tug at your heartstrings and leave a cloud of sorrow over you. There are other stories and plays that question traditional notions of morality and holds a mirror over society’s rigid and frigid laws.

It’s the non-fiction section of the book that I absolutely loved above all else. If there’s one thing you must read, it is Das’ thoughts on religion. She wanted to get the fields “Religion” and “Caste” removed from all government forms, a view I completely agree with. Every time I go to a hospital, and their registration form has a “religion” field (most do), I make sure that my displeasure is obvious. Another essay worth noting is Shattering Misery’s Silence. It talks about how the matriarchal and matrilinear society of Kerala went on to become a patriarchal one, and how the bold women of previous centuries gave way to meek, submissive ones. She talks about how clothing is used to judge people. The slightly sardonic tone in which Das writes is quite gut wrenching.

“If wrappings of cloth can impart respectability, the most respectable persons are the Egyptian mummies, all wrapped in layers and layers of gauze.”

Finishing this book has filled me with a quiet restlessness. Why had I not read her books for so long? Why was I advised against reading her, when of all the writers I’ve read, she seems to be one of the fearless ones that need to be read. Yes, her work NEEDS to be mandatory reading. She spoke her mind; how many of us do? What holds us back?

For far too long, I have placed Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin on the pedestal of honest and bold writers. For far too long, I have revered Anita Nair’s skills as a writer. Today, I place Kamala Das on that pedestal. Or perhaps on an even higher one.

Amazon | Goodreads

Beauty and Sadness, by Yasunari Kawabata (Translation: Howard Hibbett)


Ah. Lost love. Adultery. Two extremely mishandled subjects in literature, yet so immensely powerful when done right. What do I say about Yasunari Kawabata’s novel Beauty and Sadness that has not already been said? What is it about this deeply haunting novel that lingers behind the dusty drapes of your mind long after you have turned the last page?

Beauty and Sadness is the story of Oki, a famous novelist, and Otoko. While in his early 30s, Oki had an affair with the fifteen-year old Otoko. Oki is already married and has a son. His wife, Fumiko, finds out about the affair, and Oki abandons the now-pregnant Otoko. Otoko delivers the child prematurely, and the child dies even before she could see it. All she ever finds out is that the child had jet black hair, like her own.

Oki then writes a novel about his affair with Otoko, which is considered to be his most accomplished work. He makes his wife type it out for him, and though jealous, she proceeds to do so. As it is obvious that the girl in the novel is Otoko, she is forced to leave Tokyo and move to Kyoto. All her prospects of ever getting married are ruined by the novel.

Now, over twenty years later, Oki wants to visit Kyoto and celebrate the New Year with Otoko. She is now a famous painter, and lives with her protege and lover, Keiko, a girl of volatile temperament. Convinced that Otoko is still in love with Oki, Keiko wants revenge – both on Otoko’s behalf, and also, out of her own jealousy.

Thus begins this strange and simple story of lost love and human nature.

This story reminded me in part of Memories of My Melancholy Whores (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) but perhaps only because of how delicate both these love stories are, in essence. They have very different plots.

Beauty and Sadness is one of the most visually enchanting books I’ve ever read. Consider this: The misty spring rain softened the outline of the mountain across the river and made it even more beautiful. Such beauty, such vividness. Granted that the book has the slightly stilted quality that nearly all translations have. But it only made me wonder how much more beautiful this book would have been in the original Japanese; how much it would have appealed to a native speaker who understood all its nuances.

It also explores the painful landscape of lost love, with all its demons – jealousy, heartbreak, rage, revenge. And the quietness with which those who have once loved someone continue to love them, though that part of their lives has forever ended: Even now he’s there within you, and you’re within him.

Most importantly, the book does not offer you everything on a platter. You fill the story in, in its little blanks. Never has a story of such passion been narrated so dispassionately, thereby severing all connection between the writer and his characters – describing them with no judgment at all – the very part where other writers fail when writing about adultery. Do we hate Oki? We must, but we don’t – we see him through the eyes of Otoko, one whose love for him has transcended everything else. Where does one find such love, except in art and literature?

And as it gradually culminates to its tragic end, you sigh and weep, for the love that once was. For one that will, perhaps, for eternity be.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes


Before I begin my review, I want you all to picture me on a rocking chair in front of a fireplace, rubbing my hands together. Don’t ask me why, just picture it.

Did you? Good.

I finished this book some time ago – a few hours, that is. I’ve been since reflecting on the story, examining its nooks and corners, of which there seem to be quite a few. But most of all, I have been trying to make sense of that ending. Not a pun, believe me.

It isn’t that the ending isn’t clear – it’s perfectly laid out for the reader in so many words. The trouble is, I am unable to comprehend it in all its open ended glory. Like Tony, the protagonist, I “don’t get it”. Turns out, I’m not the only one either, if you check out GR. But that’s beside the point, because the answers in there (yes, I read, but you shouldn’t – there are spoilers) are what we already know. I have this nagging thought at the back of my mind that there is something extremely crucial that I’m missing. Like I’m reading the answer in front of me, but I’m missing something vital.

Oh, sorry, look at me go on and on about the ending when I haven’t said anything about the rest of the story. I am such an unreliable narrator. Much like Tony.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a story about a group of friends, Tony, Colin, Alex, and Adrian. Adrian is the newest member of their group and is cleverer (more philosophical, if you will) than the rest of them. For some reason, he reminded me of Private Quelch from the short story The Man Who Knew Too Much. The guys are your typical show-offs, pretending to be more important than they are. You know the kind – spouting “wisdom” at every turn, pretentious, etc. One of their classmates, Robson, commits suicide after getting a girl pregnant. They make fun of him, even as Adrian tries to get philosophical about it.

Tony, a few years later, meets and goes out with Veronica Ford. She is haughty and constantly makes Tony feel inferior. He stays over at her house one weekend, when her mother, Sarah, tells him not to let her “daughter get away with too much”. Tony does not know what to make of it (neither do I). Later, Tony comes to know that Veronica is involved with Adrian. Later still, Adrian commits suicide. Tony, Alex or Colin do not know why, but they assume he probably had a deep, philosophical reason. Maybe he was too intelligent to live in this world.

Years later, Tony recollects this whole episode. He is now retired, divorced, on friendly terms with his ex-wife and daughter. He has just received a letter from an attorney stating that according to Veronica’s mother’s will, he is now the owner of Adrian’s diary. Confused, he manages to contact Veronica, who is as rude to him as she was when they were young. She refuses to give him the diary, but instead gives him a letter which he had written to them (Veronica and Adrian) when they got together, all the while telling him “You don’t get it.”

Now my lips are sealed.

The Sense of an Ending is a thin book (150 pages) but somehow it seems to pack a lot. The narrative style is simple, conversational; like Tony is talking directly to the reader. Just slightly different from most first person narratives. There is some repetition, like the narrator is trying to drive home a point, even as he tells us his memory is now weak and he is thus, unreliable.

This book is proof that you must never leave a book unfinished. Because the story unravels slowly and the twist, or the Big Reveal happens on the last page. But the trouble is, you do feel like leaving the book unfinished. You feel like Tony is has lived too carefully, and his life is so uninteresting that you don’t care either way. And yet, you are mildly curious about what’s gonna happen.

Considering this book is slightly different from what I’m used to, my mind was developing some bizarre theories about the ending – for instance, I thought Tony suffers from a terrible disease related to his memory (cos he just states too many times that he is afraid of Alzheimer’s) and he doesn’t know it. But of course, the ending was nothing like that. It’s a whole other thing. However, Tony’s observations and examinations are accurate, and I almost got worried that in some parts my thoughts matched that of a man in his sixties! Oh dear!

Maybe years later, if I re-read this book, I will discover facets that I have missed this time. Get a few more answers. I also feel that Julian Barnes’ writing is something that grows on you. It’s not a world kind to outsiders – it has to trust you before it shows you all it is. So all I have for now is an open ended conclusion, which I wish I could make more sense of.

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