The sense of an ending

I have read The sense of an ending, by Julian Barnes. Having previously read “England, england” from the same author, I did not have high expectations on this book, even if it did win the Booker prize in 2011. I was proven wrong, as The sense of an ending is one of the best reads I had lately.

The novel is a strong first person life story, a complete personal and subjective view of a man’s life, from different perspective: starting from teenage, young man, and old man (grandpa even). We are presented the normal things that preoccupy young intellectual male in the 60s: books, literature, knowledge, interest in opposite sex, and curiosity. We are presented with interactions in school, how young boys would get friends, and what was their opinion on the world and things like: suicide, unwanted pregnancy, virginity, and similar topics.

The storyteller, Tony, has a teenage relationship with a very strange girl, Veronica, a symbol of the eternal feminism that is not comprehensible by man. She has no apparent explanation for anything she does, being totally illogic, pure feminist, without any rationale in actions, and very confusing for a young boy at his first relationship. The image is depicted very well, taking the reader back in time in their young years, getting very personal and close to each of us, throughout our young selves.

We are presented with apparently unconnected events, like Adrian’s suicide, and the breakup with Veronica, which starts a relationship with Adrian, before he committed suicide. We are then taken later into time, nearly 40 years later, to see how our character turned out: met a far simpler woman, precise and very predictable: Margaret, whom he married and had a daughter, but their marriage never lasted. Margaret is the symbol of the best friend woman, who can be a lover, but never in full symbiosis.

The chain of events unfolds with the will from Veronica’s mother, and Adrian’s diary, and with the rebirth of many feelings from Tony regarding Veronica, and their somehow not complete love story. The end is very unpredictable, and somehow makes us very pitiful for Veronica, as she would not have deserved the crude reality that happened to her: her mother seducing her lover and giving birth to a brother to her with her own lover. The end plot twist is somehow a bit painful and dark, and I would have honestly expected something different , as the story unfolded.

The sense of an ending is a life story, marvelously written, taking us back through each stage of our life, making us relive a lot of moments from our youth. It depicts the eternal feminine mystery in a great way, and teenage relationships, but also maturity and the effect of it, and the difference that our initial events make for us, and the fingerprint that we always wear with us , from the persons that truly influenced our life.

A great book, gives a bitter taste in the end, and makes me think a lot, which is something I really appreciate in a book.

A week in December

I have read another book from Sebastian Faulks, after¬†Engleby , this time “A week in December”.

The novel is a strong depiction of early 21st century London, with it’s ups and downs, I would name it even a mosaic of the current society that we live in. We see the life of 7+ characters, apparently very different, but each one of them represents a certain aspect of today’s society, and how it has evolved in the last years.

We have a very powerful financial business man, John Veals, who has sacrificed his life for money, which is the only thing that actually interests him. He has a wife and two children, and offers them everything they desire, except himself, love, and attention. He is focused on doing financial transactions and putting down other companies at his own interest. Here we see some prequel to the 2008 financial crisis that shattered the world economics.

His wife, Vanessa, is the woman who finds accomplishment in expensive and luxurious life, buying, and living on great expense, but alone, failing both as a mother and a wife. Their son, Finn, becomes a marijuana addict, because he has all the money and the world and nobody to guide him, eventually having schizophrenic episodes.

Hassan is a son of an immigrant, who finds comfort in the Quran, and plans to do a terrorist strike on a hospital, plotting with some other young boys who have the same issue: loathe for the current society, for the women’s exposure, for the American expansion through Irak and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, and so on. They deny themselves friendship, love, and science, to become addict and subdued by the Quran verses. In the end, we have hope, as he has a revelation moment, and discovers that not all in life is bound for him to solve by his terrorist attempt, and manages to find out strong feelings , both ways, from a girl that was always around him.

Hassan’s father is an immigrant who did not study much in school, but a very successful businessman, with a good honest business with lemons. He desires to be something that he is not, always appreciating other people’s culture, even if he had no chance nor desire at it. He is bound to meet the Queen to be delivered a British Empire order, and wants to talk to the Queen about his reading, although he can barely read. His attempt at being what he is not isn’t hypocrisy, it;s rather funny actually.

We also have a young lawyer, Gabriel, who is blocked in an old relationship with an older, married woman, and cannot get over it. He has also big problems with money, but prefers to spend his time reading or studying. He falls in love for a young girl, Jenni, who is a London tube driver. Jenni is a simple girl, caring for her brother, living a very simple proletarian life, and her only pleasure in life is to play an alternate reality game. Never acquainted love, she is puzzled by her meet of Gabriel, and perhaps one of the positive sides of the book is their encounter, and the possibility of them forming a deranged couple somehow brings hope and light. Gabriel also has a schizophrenic brother, commited in a mental institution. The illness is recurrent, another sign of 21st century diseases.

Another character is Tranter, a literary critic, who finds himself in loathing of everyone else in his work branch, but being incapable of producing something more valuable.

We have as well a polish footballer, an immigrant, who tries to find a spot in a football team in England, with a Russian girlfriend, who tries to get accustomed to being the girlfriend of an important man, after living a solitude life of posing for adult content.

A week in December is a true mosaic, we have characters from all the classes, with all the problems of life, with dark days, with some hope and some light, and somehow, each of them, has a small piece of us, after all.

The stars, like dust

I continued my read of Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series with the second novel, The stars, like dust. Compared to Pebble in the sky, this second novel is even more soapy and cinema-oriented. Would probably make a good script for a teenage action movie. In short, my disappointment grown a little bit with this episode.

We have a young student, who develops from a carefree young man to a mature and married man in a couple of weeks, again we have a galaxy wide plot that is revealed, a lot of basic characters that have their fate chosen, but this time, we have a bit more twists and plot changes.

Biron Farrill is our main character, who is manipulated by one of his acquaintances to go to a different planet, to get dragged into a plot against the rulers of the system, the Tyranni. He is being chased by one of their leaders, during which time he falls for the daughter of the head of a planetary system, and for sure, as in soap operas, she falls for him as well. Apparent good characters are eventually revealed to have also evil intentions, but, the straight line of the characters is very well defined from the start. We have a simple girl who refuses an arranged marriage, a crazy science addicted uncle, a soldier, and a father who proves to be much more than what he appeared to be.

The world constructed by Asimov is not as complicated and as evolved as in the first novel, but this time he focuses much more on the twists of the plot. Also, he lefts out character development a lot, and only emphasizes on Biron, who gets all the evolution from zero to a full intelligent grown man able to discover the darkest secrets hidden for years. The one thing which I enjoyed was the reference to the United States Constitution, which again, brings back the motif of involution in the future, which Asimov has been playing in all his novels. Somehow makes us feel a little proud and accomplished in our century, and gives hope for a brighter future, that our current constitutions and liberal concepts can be looked at from a distant future with a bit of awe.

Very theatrical, recommendable for young teenagers, The stars, like dust, is a good train read, but nothing more. Maybe in the 50s was a great success, but today, is a bit obsoleted.

Pebble in the sky

I started reading Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series, starting with his first novel: Pebble in the sky.

A light read, Pebble in the sky is a nice, cute, and soft attempt at science fiction. Having previously read Arthur C. Clarke 2001: A Space Odyssey and other writings (Childhood’s End), I can say that Asimov is less based on facts, less scientific, more soapy, and a bit more commercial – cinema oriented story. Asimov tries to reach to the general audience: people not really framed with science fiction, nor the addicted of the genre, not the fanatics, not the science geeks. That’s why I would call his book¬† a soft attempt at science fiction. It’s more science oriented and evolved than my older read from H.G. Wells’ The time machine , mostly because of half a century and more of scientific development in the world, but still cannot compare to William Gibson’s writings or Philip K. Dick (see A scanner darkly ). By the way, Gibson is in my read queue.

Getting back to a Pebble in the sky, we can see typical scientific motifs: time traveling, space traveling, wars, interplanetary relations, discovering the past. We can also see usual themes: love, interracial quarrels, war again, leading, subducing, and so on.

Pebble in the sky also makes us a bit fond of our own planet, Earth, as in the book it’s depicted as a radioactive destroyed planet, with a very small population. Earthlings look to be more primitive, and be regarded as a low society by the rest of the galaxy. We find out how this can change, by seeing that Earth was the cradle of civilization, long time ago, when one of the characters used to live (for sure, 1950s, when Asimov wrote the book), a character that is taken thousands of years in the future. And we get a warning from Asimov, that, the human race as we know it, might not survive if we keep playing with nuclear warfare. At some points this is suggested by remarks from the characters, who wonder how it was possible to have nuclear devices without any way of protection or contention.

The main character is an archaeologist who wants to discover a secret truth about planet Earth, trying to battle with his education about the induced ideas of Earthlings’ inferiority. He is caught in a plot that can destroy the Galaxy, together with a man from a very distant past, who was subjected to brain enhancement, a scientist that dedicated his life to brain improvements, and a young girl who falls in admiration and love for his nobleness.

In other words, we have a foreigner that comes to a low society planet, falls in love with an Earth woman, and tries to save the whole Galaxy from extermination by solving a plot against it done by the humanity leaders. Sounds very much like a superhero movie, which is the reason why I say the novel is very soapy. A bit of Pocahontas, a bit of the later Die Hard movies, the book has it all. Except the cinema features presented in the novel, we can see some distinguished features that make Pebble in the Sky a good light read: strong imagination, of a Galatic Empire based on human colonies, space travel, the model of population control by removing unwanted citizens that reach a certain age, and so on. We can also see some more not so obvious themes, like religion/autocracy control, quest for power and domination, fight between good and evil, feelings of superiority and inferiority.

A good train read, for 2018, Pebble in the sky was most likely a very good novel in the 1950s, but today, I can only classify it under classic golden science fiction age, superseded by much greater recent works, but with a humorous and relaxing mood which is still pleasant in this day.