Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Sense of an Ending

Thanks to the Highlander for hosting our Ninth Annual Holiday BC!  The house looked beautiful, as always, the champagne was flowing, as always, and the level of book club controversy was right where it should be for the holidays.  We started off with hot artichoke dip and a cheese and charcuterie platter, followed by--what else!--beef bourguignon over creamy mashed potatoes, a festive kale salad with ricotta salata and pomegranate seeds, and roasted brussel sprouts.  Not enough calories for this crowd, so the pecan pie and Heath Bar cookies rounded out the evening and all of us.  December book club would not be the same without those Heath Bar cookies!

Julian Barnes' Sense of an Ending scored about a 6.5.  December book club would also not be the same without someone, of the male gender, who puts up a fuss about rating the book.  Come on people, it's just a book club rating, not an official pronouncement of literary criticism!  Unlike last year's uniformly high marks (including the historic "double 10" couples vote!), this novel was more inconsistently received.  There was a camp around the 7 to 8 zone, some haters around 4 and 5, and those who rated it a 6.  Oh, wait, that was Brother D rating Chris a 6.  Never mind... (Incidentally, El Jefe was extremely content to sit back, sip champagne, and let Brother D crack the whip.)  Although the book's rating was lackluster, the discussion was not.  The overarching theme of the novel was about growing old, and how, when we look back upon our lives, we inevitably view our own history through a lens that distorts the truth.  Do we perceive ourselves as better people than we really were?  More fair?  More honest?  More important?  Although somewhat heavy-handed, the author framed these questions in an eloquent and interesting way, first through the classroom discourse in a prep school history class, and then through the events that unfold in the life of everyman Tony Webster, the book's narrator.   Tony sets forth the story of his school years, his best friend, Adrian, his youthful romance with Vanessa, and his innocuous journey into middle age.  The first half of the book progresses slowly, with beautiful prose but not a lot going on.  Until we learn about the venomous letter Tony sent to Vanessa and Adrian, containing a curse that ultimately comes true.  Not only does the letter force Tony to re-evaluate his memories and, in fact, his entire character, but it forces us, as readers, to question everything we have been told.  (A heated debate, El Jefe recalls, ensued over whether Tony being an "unreliable narrator" was a noteworthy feature of the book, or whether all narrators are unreliable and therefore this was an obvious and uninteresting observation.  Ah, the holiday BC!)  We also hotly deliberated over the end of the book.  Why was Vanessa so angry with Tony when she should have been angry with Adrian?  Why did the mother leave Tony the diary?  Why was her bequest to Tony "blood money?"  Although this book was not for everyone, its poignant and ominous ending leaves each of us with much to reflect on, and the disturbing uncertainty of wondering what long-forgotten act may come back to haunt us, compelling the revision of our personal legacy as we believe it to be.

Blood money. noun. 1. a fee paid to a hired murderer. 2. compensation paid to the next of kin of a slain person. 3. money obtained ruthlessly and at a cost of suffering to others. 4. money paid to an informer in order to cause somebody to be arrested, convicted, or especially executed.

We are very excited to start 2012--our 10th year!--by welcoming T-- and R-- into The Club of Books.  Our January meeting will be either at Chez Jefe, or at the Winter Chateau, depending on our construction situation.  Date to be confirmed by separate e-mail.  Our next book is The Poisoner's Handbook:  Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, read early and often!  Until 2012...xoej