Quotable - but unlikeable characters
Barnes kicks off the narrative with the question, “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?” In one of his previous books, ’The Sense of An Ending’ he explored a man who chose not to love and ended up miserable; this book is about a man who does love but ends up miserable. I love Julian Barnes’ writing for its philosophy and thoughtful quotes, and there were plenty of these. The second section, where he describes a descent into alcoholism and mental illness in excruciating, though not sensationalising, detail, is brilliantly observed.
As a novel, however, it fell a little flat for me. Barnes’ insights, as ever, are fascinating, but both characters were unlikeable, the love story never quite convincing. The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal had similar themes but communicated via character and plot rather than philosophy and observation. In reading them both at the same time I found de Waal’s ultimately more satisfactory and memorable. Recommended for its intelligence, but not an enjoyable read. Quote from Julian Barnes, but read Kit de Waal for pleasure.