This is a book about time and what it does to us. In particular, it’s about how time gives us a different perspective and how, horrifically, it can bring us to the point where we see how utterly wrong we were in the past.
I read a lot of reviews of this online and, for the most part, nobody really likes Tony Webster, the protagonist. Although I don’t think I’d like to spend a weekend in a country cottage with him, I felt a very real affinity with him. I’ve been through enough of those moments of blinding new perspective in my 40 years that I have humbly resigned myself to them coming along like buses every 5 years or so. And I’m usually so undone by them and the new insight I get into myself that I feel for anyone who goes through it no matter how justified a shock it might be.
Tony grew up with a close circle of boyhood school friends. As university takes them their separate ways, he finds himself involved in life and, in particular with a woman or two who are to have significant roles to play throughout his life. I found the two characters that Barnes created in these two women fascinating. Rather, I found their role in Tony’s life fascinating. Although they are both very different characters, in a way, they form one perfect complementary response to him.
Towards the end of the book, Tony has brought his memoirs up to the present day and is starting to slowly become aware that things have not always been as he had thought them to be. This is a very delicate point in the book and I think Barnes deals with this growing self-awareness masterfully. It really made me think about what my life now will look like from my perspective in another 30 years. This is the kind of book that should be read, like Of Human Bondage, every decade or so.
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