As we age, our memories of things past shift as well. What we experienced as a young person may be recalled in an entirely different manner from the realty of the time. Consider Tony Webster in Julian Barnes’ novel The Sense of an Ending. Tony has the usual experiences as an emerging adult - fast friendships, school challenges, and a somewhat difficult relationship with a young woman. He isn’t with Veronica for long and only meets her family on one rather miserable occasion, that awkward weekend’s stay at their house, with Tony trying to remain polite while puzzling out the subtle messages the various family members might be sending him. The breakup between Tony and Veronica appears inevitable from the first page when we find the two together, but it is the lingering memory of an incident that carries the relationship forward in time. When it becomes necessary for Tony to contact Veronica after years and years of separation, his well-established perception of their relationship, breakup, and subsequent events seems to become topsy-turvy. So vast is the separation between recalled memory and reality that one wonders if they were living in the same universe. And as the reality of past events and his past behavior pushes its way into Tony’s consciousness, so too does the reader perhaps reflect on his or her own embellished and altered memories of youth. Was that really the way it all happened? When Veronica tells Tony that he just doesn’t get it, we know that he may never get it. Age can bring wisdom or willful ignorance. Which one will we choose when facing the past in the glaring light of day?
D. L. S.