Life: A Novel

Perhaps we wouldn’t have been so hard on Robson if it hadn’t been for one central, unshiftable fact: Robson was our age, he was in our terms unexceptional, and yet he had not only conspired to find a girlfriend but also, incontestably, to have sex with her. Fucking bastard!
Julian Barnes, The End of TimesDSCI0018Between the philosophically self evident events of Eros and Thanatos is a story. Julian Barnes’ latest novel The Sense of an Ending pokes serious and fun at the self evidence of our philosophically comical lives, as well as the looming retrospective that Thanatos evokes, and our ever-consuming obsession with Eros-  sought, avoided, or remorsed.

I gave her the short version of the short version, leaving out the names of the relevant philosophers. (56)

Barnes unfolds the story as a story. The first third of the book is the life of Tony as explained by Tony; most of which concentrates on his school days when saying things like “philosophically self evident” comes easily to the earnestly cynical pedant of the over-schooled English lad. But that is not the story, it is merely a novella of the life, with the occasional arch comment about whether or not his life or any other makes a good novel.

Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. (113)

The story is about life as a history. How things are remembered, or suddenly internally or externally recalled. Finding the reasons for a single event, but aware that the history of the teller matters as much as all the predicating details that led to the actual event.

But we learn something else: that the brain doesn’t like being typecast. Just when you think everything is a matter of decrease, of subtraction and division, your brain, your memory, may surprise you. (122)

Barnes’ prose are terse, witty, and slyly moving. The End of Times is funny but also left me thinking about the sad and all too frequent smothered life.

I have often wondered about the novelistic qualities of my own life, I suppose you have to get to end to see clearly the chapters or parts, ( most lives don’t develop beyond the basic part I of childhood and part II of adulthood).

“Are there any Stefan Zweig titles you would particularly recommend?” (141)

Stefan Zweig – Well, surly that’s a mention far and away enough to recommend this book. Zweig’s books are often tragic. Even so,  I think we should live our lives as novels. Why end up as some banal biography of the sort that lines the shelves in a school library? If only for the simply reason that a novel is always written for a purpose, better to be active – write it. Live it.

12 responses to “Life: A Novel

  1. In a sense we are all a living story, each page the record of each day of living life.

  2. My story has gone awry. Must get it back on track.

  3. Lovely post, dearest!

    Life being a history is quite different from life being a story, right? I’de rather live my life as a story, rather than as a history. What’s the point of living without living?

    (Have no idea why Stefan Zweig is mentioned by J. Barnes at all, but I would certainly recommend his titles. He’s a reference in European literature of the first half of the 20th century and I personally do appreciate his (various) writings. Zweig wrote not only biographies, but also poetry, novels, short stories, tales (legends?), dramas, and some other non-defined works).

    My life: a novel?
    It surely is!!! A quite overwhelming one! And… so full, so full of experiences, both good and bad (naturally!), but so non-stopping full that it resembles fiction… Can’t really complain about its boredom!
    It would be rather hard to divide my life novel into chapters: present and past seem to be always in connection and my “novel” would have (maybe too many!) analepsis and prolepsis (flashbacks and forwards).
    I can’t really tell whether the story writes me or I write my story. Most probably “my novel” would be a portrait of both writings: of my own (my self; my development (or not- in certain aspects of life I don’t feel developing, but the other way round); my actions; my own choices and responsibilities) and of the story’s: (those happenings external to me that belong to life and its surprises, casualties, etc.)
    My novel would be a great story, of that I’m quite sure. Weird, in a way; funny, fun, sad, nostalgic, depressing, revolting, passionate, unstable, disquiet, complex. It would be the story of someone who has always lived intensively, except for those times of paralyzing shyness, insecurity and too low self-esteem. But going back 30, 25 years… there was already the other me… the other side of me. And my other world. The one I started to build for my self-protection. And than ought to come out in my novel, too!
    Above all, it would be the mirror of an unsatisfied human creature, of a demanding one, (firstly with myself), of a somehow “tormented” soul, longing for the absolute. In what intellectual, emotional and spiritual matters are concerned.

    Thanks, Jess, once again!
    It has been quite nice “wondering” and “wandering” about this!



    • I love Zweig. The Royal Game is extraordinary.
      I think he is mentioned by Barnes to suggest something about the character in his book (Veronica) that is reading Zweig (an intellectual depth and melancholy perhaps). As well as to suggest something about the character (Tony) that comments on it (a man who avoided depth while possessed of all the attributes- which makes him cheeky but remorseful).
      And yes, a history is certainly distinct from a story which has forward momentum. Where history and story meet is now.

      • Thanks for clarifying it so well!!!

        I’m very fond of SZ, too. In fact, you’ve inspired me, Jessie. I’m about to post on Zweig and mainly on his poetry.
        I thank you again for highlighting this brilliant writer on your post! It has made me remember how much I’ve been “forgetting” “my” dear, precious German literature! Almost a sin!

      • Wonderful! I haven’t read any of his poetry and look forward to it.

  4. Reblogged this on nós and commented:
    My life: a novel?!
    Oh, yeah!

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