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Mark de Castrique posted an event

Malaprop's Bookstore at Malaprop's

November 9, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Presenting new Sam Blackman mystery A SPECTER OF JUSTICESee More
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

A Chronology of Asheville and WNC Events in History

                                   IMPORTANT DATES IN ASHEVILLE HISTORY                                                                 by Rob Neufeld 1000: The Cherokee, who’d introduced maize agriculture to the region, began cultivating beans. 1540: Hernando De Soto led troops to East Tennessee through either the Hickory Nut or Swannanoa Gap, finding gold and copper and inspiring a succession of Spanish miners. 1663: Charles II bestows territory between the 31st and 36th parallels in America…See More
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Root-diggers of Appalachia

People in the Lost Provinces were herb-gatherersby Rob NeufeldPHOTO CAPTION: Three herbal products offered by S.B. Penick’s, once the world’s largest herb distributor, its largest warehouse located in Asheville.             “Last week, during a research trip to the ‘Lost Provinces,’” Luke Manget said about the landscape…See More
Mark de Castrique posted a video

A Specter of Justice Preview

A Preview of the new Sam Blackman mystery to be released November 3, 2015
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

"Us versus Them" does not help fight against racism; worsens sectionalism

“Us versus them” is not good historyby Rob Neufeld             Writing about history and the complex lives that play out within it does not sell as well as team spirit, especially in this age of clicks and likes.            I recently confronted this truth when I wrote my article last week about the minds of our leaders in 1851. The word “slavery” was added to the headline to alert people to its relevance.  Seeing that term connected people to a cause they felt strongly about, particularly in…See More
Sep 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Player of Games and the Millennial Mind

Player of Games reveals today’s game-changing mentalityby Rob Neufeld             There is something big happening in Millennial Generation literature, and I thought I’d try to get a handle on it.            To give an idea of one aspect of current thinking: I was at a gathering recently, plenty of youngsters, and I…See More
Sep 27
Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event

Julia Nunnally Duncan Book Signing at MACA Building

October 10, 2015 from 9am to 1pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will sign her books at the McDowell Arts Council Association (MACA) Booth at the annual Mountain Glory Festival on Saturday, October 10 from 9-1.See More
Sep 22
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Sep 22
Ann Miller Woodford shared their photo on Facebook
Sep 21
Ann Miller Woodford posted a photo

Deacon Chrisenberry -Berry- Howell (1855-1938) on horseback. From the collection of Purel Miller (2)

My maternal great grandfather, Chrisenberry Howell, who was called "Berry" Howell in Swain County. From the Purel Miller collection. Submitted by Ann Miller Woodford
Sep 21
James D. Loy posted a blog post

The skull merchant, the dead ape, and the narcoleptic mortician

Hello "The Read on WNC" readers:     I'm posting this note to announce the publication of vol. 3 in my "Loy's Loonies" series.  This one is called The Mortician's Road Trip and it's a bit more of a mystery than my earlier books. Here's a teaser for the story.     Upstate New Yorker Baz Rathbone makes ends meet by selling human skulls. By contract, he should cremate them, but he doesn’t. His little business comes to the attention of the FBI when a woman spots her late husband’s skull being used…See More
Sep 20
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Sep 19
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Sep 19
Ann Miller Woodford replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains
"That East Tennessee Christian Association of Friends comment, especially bothered me, but it clarifies the view some folks from outside the region have about us even to this day.   … average intelligence...below that of colored…"
Sep 8
Ann Miller Woodford updated their profile
Sep 8
Carol Anders posted an event

FREUD'S LAST SESSION by Mark St. Germain at All Souls Cathedral Parrish Hall / Biltmore Village

October 4, 2015 from 7pm to 9pm
It is a "sharp, lively discourse, and audience members searching for engaging debate will be pleased, St. Germain's script is astute, and the humor is plentiful."-NY Times. Sigmund Freud invites C. S. Lewis to his home in London  ...they clash about sex, love, the existence of God and the meaning of life - just weeks before Freud took his own life. This play reveals the minds, hearts and souls of two brilliant men.  Afterwards a time to "talk back" with The Very Rev. Todd Donatelli and Dr. Mary…See More
Sep 8

Great novel plays with a man’s conscience and memory

by Rob  Neufeld


            The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a different kind of mystery—not the whodunit variety, which has no real sense of closure, except in a legal sense; or in the relief of having a threat extinguished.

            The mystery in this novel has to do with a caring, self-centered person’s need to resolve, forty years after the fact, his part in a relationship with a puzzling girlfriend and a friend’s suicide.

            “You just don’t get it, do you?” Veronica, the girlfriend, tells the narrator, Tony Webster, on several occasions.

            The Sense of the Ending, is the subject of Book Discussion X at Accent on Books, 7 p.m., Thurs., Mar. 14.


Great storytelling


            Barnes’ novel has comedy, great dialogue, plot surprises, and anecdotes—but, right from the start, it’s Tony’s philosophical seriousness that does the main carrying job.

            The first paragraph is in some ways not typical of the book.  “I remember in no particular order,” the narrator prefaces, launching into a list of six seemingly unrelated images, including one graphic one.

            He then talks about the way time has nothing to with a clock, and he eases into his school days at an English private school.  Tony and his sardonic pals were fake smart, and wanted to lead lives like the ones in great literature.  Enter, Adrian, un-flippant and brilliant, and a magnet of interest like Sophie to Stingo in William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice.

            When Old Joe Hunt, history teacher, asks his class, “What is history?”, Adrian responds, it is “the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” 

            “Would you care to give an example?” the teacher says.

            “Robson’s suicide, sir.” The school had just received news about a student whom the boys barely knew, and Adrian wanted to show that even events not obscured by centuries were beyond mysterious.  


Memories float up


            On page 31, one of the random impressions noted in the novel’s first paragraph—“steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it”—comes to the surface and fleshes out.

            Tony has graduated from secondary school and found his first serious girlfriend, Veronica.  Veronica is enigmatic, manipulative, or troubled—it’s hard to tell.  Tony visits her family for the first time, and finds them snobbishly mocking, except for Veronica’s mother, Mrs. Ford.

            One morning, after Veronica, her father, and her brother take off on an outing, letting Tony sleep in, he is treated to breakfast by Mrs. Ford, whom the brother refers to as “the mother.”  Tony notices a couple of seemingly insignificant gestures—including her tossing of the frying pan.  Mrs. Ford says—memorably, as it turns out—“Don’t let Veronica get away with too much.” 

            As a reader, I get great pleasure from the surfacing of previously unexplained references.  We know more will follow.  And it has so much to do with the big story.  Isn’t it odd, we think, how a tiny moment in our past can attain much bigger dramatic status than big events?

            Tony and Veronica break up, and she, he learns in a letter, hooks up with Adrian.  He writes Adrian a letter, advising him “to be prudent, because in my opinion Veronica has suffered damage a long way back.”

            Later on in the novel, he—and we—get another account of that warning letter, and it is a shock.  Memory is selective, it seems. For  the moment, Tony goes into a meditation about the damage that “we all suffer.”

            He’s groping. 

            One more revelation.  It’s something of a spoiler, but the book’s flyleaf also gives it away.  Adrian commits suicide, and Tony inherits from Mrs. Ford 500 pounds and Adrian’s diary.  This is a mystery that must be explained.

            We’re on page 69, and at the beginning of part two of the novel.




            The second, and larger, part of The Sense of an Ending, involves Tony as a 60-year-old.  The poor guy is obsessed with his past.

            He consults his ex-wife, Margaret.  (He had married and divorced a woman who is Veronica’s opposite—she has a low opinion of mysteriousness.)

            Margaret suggests he take the money from Mrs. Ford and take Margaret on a holiday. 

            “If she’d wanted me to spend the money on a holiday for two,” Tony muses about his straightforward ex, “she’d have said so.  Yes, I realize that’s exactly what she did say, but…”

            The painfulness of Tony’s predicament—his struggle and dimly dawning awareness of his lack of a great life (like John Marcher in Henry James’ story, “The Beast in the Jungle”)—contains a lot of humor, and Barnes is a virtuoso in mining that for pace and poignancy.

            At one point, Veronica takes him on a wild drive to give him a clue about what’s what, and Tony, thinking he has the sane person’s upper hand, irritates her with a barrage of banalities.

            “This is a very interesting part of town,” he says.

            “There are a lot of fat people around nowadays,” he says.

            Let me tell you about the novel’s ending.   This is not in the least a give-away because Barnes leaves you with Tony saying he’s finally figured things out, but he doesn’t reveal what.  Barnes tells you what memories Tony is targeting, but not their explanations.

            Isn’t that the mark of a great book?  You want to keep thinking about it after you’ve put it down.



The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Knopf, 2011, 169 pages, $23.95; Vintage trade paper, 2012, $14.95).  The novel was short-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

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