Anthony Webster, the narrator is probably the only survivor of the lot of four friends from Form Six - Colin, Alex, Adrian Finn and himself. A retired Tony describes events in his life from then, with the three of his intellectually sound friends, in bits and pieces. Of course that is what we can expect, considering the fact that the Englishman is already old and divorced, not to mention, a single parent. Memoirs from different times in the past are well strung to deliver the connection in their lives today.
Set in the London of 1960s and moving forty years thereafter, the narrative gives the reader scope to compare the culture of the sixties with the present times. It begins with Tony and his friends, revolves around their lives, starts heating up with Adrian’s suicide and gets complex when Veronica’s mother leaves Tony a bequest and a diary out of the blue, forty years from the sixties. To understand why this happens, is exactly the reason for Tony to reexamine his past and arrive at an astoundingly unacceptable inference.
Some parts of the book are not explained but events start taking shape towards the end. But then, that is the icing on the cake – it keeps the reader hooked to it. Innumerous long sentences and Tony’s time consuming, loud deliberations are not just sensible, but are very philosophical too. Barnes has a very subtle yet remarkable sense of humor, making the reader roll on the floor with peals of laughter.
“Tony, you still don’t get it, you never did and you never will.” Veronica’s words are meaningful in an inexplicable way, if not powerful on Tony. Veronica, whose entry in the first few pages of the book is very acceptable, her disposition clearly understood, becomes a mystery to the reader than to Tony himself in the latter portion. Adrian Finn, his charm and intelligence surpassing every single one in the group, is arguably the brightest, although the reason behind his actions later in life, are undecipherable. Even when Colin and Alex form an integral part of the bunch, it somehow seemed like they left the story mid-way. Again, maybe that was because they did not form part of the actual story. In the book, Tony describes Veronica’s mother as someone who is ‘not a part of this story’, when she essentially is a part of it.
An agedTony with hazy memories of school, describing current events in his life with accuracy to his ex-wife Margaret and she, listening to it with great acknowledgement, compels the reader to think that they need not have parted, after all. It is very well written with exceptional usage of words, thoughts and ideas – it renders happiness to the reader, especially when the language is as smashing as that. Yet, some segments of the story are unfinished, leaving a lot of questions in the minds of the reader.
The resentment and guilt that Tony undergoes when he gets to read a copy of the last ever letter he sent Adrian, is depressing. To think that the polite and well-mannered Tony who has not even in the slightest possible way tried to hurt someone, has, in fact, maligned his best friend, by way of words - words that struck hard at Adrian and Tony himself, when he studied the letter later on, is very startling.
The ending, though very baffling, makes sense, but is movielike – not in the viewpoint of it being dramatic, but just well-set to match the storyline. A journey in itself, the sequence of events bank entirely on a person’s memory, acting as ‘corroboration’, just the way it is referred to, in the book. Overall, a decent fare – hats off to Barnes’ style of writing and presentation, it made it to the Man Booker Prize of 2011.