Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, The Sense of an Ending is a short, haunting novel of remembrance and remorse by the celebrated English writer, Julian Barnes. The first person narrator is Tony Webster, a retired manager, divorced and alone, rather self-absorbed and passive, a man of reduced expectations whose life is suddenly upended when he is willed the diary of a close friend, Adrian, who had committed suicide in his early twenties. Though Adrian came from a rung lower in the middle class than Tony, he was brilliant and charismatic, clearly destined for something great. But while studying philosophy at Cambridge, Adrian had hung himself, leaving behind an existential explanation for having made this choice. Adrian, however, had also stolen away Tony's enigmatic and manipulative girlfriend, Veronica, not long before his death. Back then, Tony had sent Adrian a bitter epistle cursing the new couple, then Tony had gotten on with his own life--a brief, hippy adventure in America, a cog-in-a machine job back in England, a non-enigmatic wife who eventually leaves him for a restaurant owner, a daughter, and finally single life in a tidy flat, volunteering at the hospital, a glass of wine a night and a week in Spain each winter, just treading water until the final curtain closes. And then, Veronica's mother--with whom Tony once felt a strange sympathy--dies and inexplicably leaves Tony 500 pounds and Adrian's diary. The first half of the novel consists of a long flashback of Tony's youth and his relationship with Adrian and Veronica; the second half involves Tony's efforts to get his hands on the diary, which Veronica, whom he hasn't seen in over forty years, doesn't want to hand over. The narrative pull becomes stronger as Tony undergoes a quest to recover the diary, find out what was going on in Adrian's mind before his death, and perhaps to even rekindle a flame with Veronica. Smaller mysteries, give way to larger ones, and ultimately to a shattering truth. Though I found some of Tony's philosophical musings on the nature of life a little tedious, his character comes fully alive and the story itself is deeply compelling.
After finishing and falling in love with Jess Walter's New York Times Bestselling novel "Beautiful Ruins" recently, I'm happy to say that "The Financial Lives of the Poets" did not disappoint. "The Financial Lives . . . " is Walter's fifth novel ("Beautiful Ruins" being his sixth) and tells the story of journalist Matt Prior, who quit his job as a business reporter to start a website in which he was going to give stock market advice in free-verse poetry. Unfortunately, along comes the financial meltdown of 2008 and Matt finds himself unemployed and in dire straits. Facing bankruptcy, his mortgage upside down, his marriage in crisis, Matt turns to . . . something illegal. The story is by turns hilarious and heart-breaking--and often both at once. Walter's prose is high-energy, lyrical and it's no coincidence that he created a protagonist with a poetic bent. This exhilarating book probes the depths of human fate, relationships and modern life in America and comes up smiling and breathing deeply. Walters is one of the best and most agile novelists writing in this country today.
Aravind Adiga's Man-Booker-Prize winning first novel, The White Tiger, tells the story of an Indian named Balram Halwi, born into poverty and deprived of education, who becomes a rich man's driver in New Delhi. There he commits an horrific act of theft and flees to become a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore, the out-sourcing Silicon Valley of the subcontinent. Written in first person as a series of letters to the Prime Minister of China, who is about to pay of visit of state to Bangalore, the story contains a disturbing and riveting mixture of comedy and tragedy. It is a dark and soul-shaking look at the grinding nature of poverty and the chilling price that Balram pays to escape.
This is a ravishingly enjoyable novel, told in the first person by Hildy Goode, a sixty-year-old alcoholic real estate agent and fictional 8th granddaughter of the real Sarah Good who was hanged for witchcraft at Salem in 1692, The story revolves around a growing friendship between Hildy and a newcomer to the small coastal Massachusetts town of Wendover, a wealthy, vulnerable young woman who stumbles into an affair with the local psychiatrist. But the story's magic truly lies in Hildy's voice--her intelligence, her worldly wisdom, her deep roots in the town and her efforts to deny her alcoholism. The book could have benefitted from a bit more editing in some early sections where a few passages fall flat and some repetition creeps in, but this is a remarkable book. The lyrically described setting and the character of Hildy Good are fully realized and a delight to encounter.
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