This short novella begins with four carefree schoolboys philosophizing earnestly on the meaning of existence, love and death. With time, they have to grow up and get on with living their lives, whether it fits into their philosophy or not. Tony Webster, who is one of the four boys, recalls events from his childhood, youth and later old age to provide a window to look at these occurrences. His biases and inaccuracies affect the stories conveyed to the reader making him an unreliable narrator. But in a paradoxical way he also comes through as very trustworthy and open, and we begin concerning ourselves with his well being. Then life throws a few curveballs at him and his friends, and the seemingly straightforward events take on an entirely different tone.
Time and memory couple tightly in this novella just like they do in real life. Time creates, distorts and erases memory while memory has its own way of twisting time. Communication is also an important theme in the novel. Sometimes a piece of communication is an occurrence in the background and sometimes it presents a cliffhanger.
Barnes’ writing is very beautiful and very lucid. A major chunk of the novel is peaceable, uneventful, without the thrust of a suspenseful plotline. The strength of his prose is that he makes this portion very enjoyable and makes you believe that an un-dramatic, modest way of living can be very satisfying too.
What left me slightly dissatisfied was the latter part of the novel. Here Barnes changes the pace of the narration and the suspense in the plotline takes the charge. I would have perhaps been happier with a more muted ending than the startling one that Barnes has presented.
I enjoyed reading this novel immensely. I was completely captured by the writing style and loved the subtle humor that Barnes so adroitly presents in unexpected places. I recommend this novel highly for the beauty and simplicity of its prose, and the depth and sensitivity of its theme.
Here’s the link to the Kindle download. It can also be bought from Flipkart in India.