The trouble with this book is that the first third is a blisteringly well-written story of young love while the second two-thirds flies forward forty years and is the blisteringly well-written story about a man writing emails to an angry ex-girlfriend.
The plot concerns Tony, an isolated man in 60s, who is trying to recover the diary of an old friend from an ex-girlfriend, Veronica, who refuses to let him see it. Why Veronica is upset with Tony after forty years of no communication is the novel’s big mystery–and it’s one I found myself quite invested it. Tony wants to figure out why Veronica hates him and overcome her contempt, but searching for answers seems to only further infuriate her.
“You never got it, Tony–and you never will,” she says, and Tony wonders if the key to understanding everything isn’t buried somewhere in his own frustratingly imperfect, shifting memories.
At times, I was reminded of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, insofar as the story’s protagonist is a man with little to do but sit around and find the world endlessly perplexing and inscrutable.
But while I hated the endless drone of Murakami’s book, I really liked Julian Barnes’s book a lot. Maybe because it was tightly focused and had a compelling central mystery that actually resolved in the end. This book was more of a page-turner for me than all the genre fiction I’ve been reading lately. While I was a touch disappointed with the ending (it felt like it relied too heavily on a reveal that I didn’t find entirely shocking, and I was left wondering what becomes of the main character), I was enchanted and moved by the idea that as life progresses and friends are lost, so too is the sense of one’s own history without corroborators needed to give us some sense of our own reality.
Brilliant, and close to perfect, but the ending struck me just a shade too prudish and judgmental.