Can we change the past by understanding it differently?
The Sense of an Ending is a nugget of a novel by Julian Barnes that won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Only 163 pages, it is easily readable in a day, perhaps in a single sitting. The premise of the novel is about how we make stories of our lives. The narrator, Tony Webster, is an older man who recollects how, nearly half a century earlier, his brilliant best friend from school ended up dating Webster’s first girlfriend. The young Webster is wounded by this and carries an image of himself as having been wronged by the girlfriend whom he considers to have been unstable.
We are all, inevitably, authors of the stories of our lives. These stories aren’t really fictitious. Curiously enough, these stories also may not be factual. Yet these are the foundations on which our identities are built. As T. S. Eliot says in The Waste Land, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
The novel is such a good read with a strong spicing of mystery that I don’t want to give away too much of what happens. What interests me is whether we can, in fact, change the past by changing our understanding of what took place.
In a future blog post, I’ll discuss an experience from my childhood, and how my recollection of it ultimately possessed the power to transform the past.